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L.B. Schools Predicting More Students Than Classrooms

April 14, 1985|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — For the first time in 21 years, the Long Beach Unified School District will be filled to capacity when classroom doors open in September, and if no new classrooms are built in the next five years, the district said it will have an estimated 10,000 more students than it has room to properly educate.

"We're near capacity this spring, and we'll be at capacity in the fall if our enrollment projections pan out," said Richard Van Der Laan, school district spokesman.

After cutting $10 million in programs last September to avoid a deficit in its $221-million budget, the Long Beach Unified School District has no money left to finance construction, Van Der Laan said. As a result, it is in the process of joining an estimated 270 other overcrowded California school districts in applying for limited state construction money to build new classrooms.

'Don't Have the Funds'

"We simply don't have the funds to build new schools," Van Der Laan said. "Even though we are currently debt free, we are using all of our revenues to operate the schools . . . and we don't want to cut into instruction money just to get space."

The battle to get new classrooms built began in earnest Monday, when the board of education adopted a resolution declaring an unofficial state of emergency and stating its intent to try to wangle money out of local redevelopment agencies to help finance school construction.

The district--which covers 130 square miles and serves Long Beach, Signal Hill, Avalon and 60% of Lakewood--has been growing by an estimated 1,500 students every year since about 1978.

In the 1983-84 school year, 60,284 students attended Long Beach schools. In 1984-85, enrollment jumped by 1,510, to 61,794, according to the study. Enrollment is expected to rise 1,682 by fall. And by the 1989-1990 academic year, 72,382 students are expected to attend school in the district.

Five-Month Study

The resolution by the board was the result of a five-month study by a two-man team that inspected every classroom in the 79-campus district and found only 17 empty rooms--510 students' worth--to house the flood of prospective new students. The study was released by the board of education Monday.

"This board has found based upon clear and convincing evidence that all attendance areas of the Long Beach Unified School District are overcrowded, impairing the normal functioning of the district, and that all reasonable methods of mitigating such conditions have been evaluated," the study said.

"New housing construction, increasing birthrates, immigration into the school district and increasing employment opportunities here are the main factors causing this overcrowding," Van Der Laan said.

City officials estimate that about 40,000 refugees have fled their troubled homelands for the Long Beach area in the past several years. An estimated 2,200 new housing units will be built in the school district each year, resulting in about 660 new students annually, the study said.

Elementary schools in Long Beach's downtown and west side--mostly low-income, minority neighborhoods--were the first to feel the crunch of too many students. Overcrowding is most evident at Edison Elementary School, which Van Der Laan said was the first campus to reach capacity when enrollment started increasing in the late 1970s.

Located just west of downtown Long Beach, Edison can accommodate 575 youngsters. But 1,839 school-age children live in the neighborhood, making the school potentially 320% full. As a result, 1,264 children are bused daily to campuses in neighborhoods with fewer children, he said.

All of the 17 empty classrooms in the district are in the 53 elementary schools. No empty desks exist in the 14 junior high schools and five high schools.

Although several individual buildings have been constructed, the last complete elementary school was built in 1962.

Options Considered

According to the resolution passed by the board, school administrators have considered every option short of going to double sessions and year-round schedules in an effort to alleviate the overcrowding, including:

-Leasing or building temporary classrooms, which are cheaper and more practical than constructing new schools. But the district has no such buildings and no money to build them.

Using the district's reserves to construct new buildings, but "there are no district funds available which would not impair the normal functioning of educational programs," the resolution said.

Selling surplus property, but because the district is so crowded it has no unused property to sell.

Busing overflow students to uncrowded schools. However, the district has been doing this since 1978, and all of the formerly uncrowded campuses will be filled by next school year.

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