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Panel Fears Decaying, Overcrowded Campuses by 2000 : Citywide Civic Effort Urged to Aid L.B. Schools

August 01, 1985|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — City Hall and city schools, caught up in a legal squabble over classroom funding, must work together as never before if overcrowded Long Beach schools are to solve the "awesome" problems they will face by the year 2000, according to a task force report.

The study was written by the City Council's carefully chosen Education Task Force, which for seven months has tried to plot the course of education here for the next 15 years.

Spokesman William A. Williams told the council Tuesday that it must abandon its traditional role of non-involvement in the schools by creating an advisory steering committee of top executives from throughout the community to direct educational efforts.

"Education is the most important issue the city faces for the next 15 years," declared Williams, a prominent local attorney.

But so far, there has been little cooperation among City Hall, the school district, the local community college and university, private schools and private industry, he said.

And the task force's 68-page final report noted pointedly: "There appears locally to be a lack of concerted effort by the educational system to attempt to create a coordinated front."

This lack of cooperation comes at a time when existing problems threaten to become much worse, Williams said.

In Long Beach, enrollment in public schools, already at capacity, will jump from 61,000 to 95,000 by 1999, he said. Most of those new students will be ethnic and racial minorities who, as a group, have done poorly on achievement and college entrance tests and who need teachers specially trained and attuned to their needs, he said.

Long Beach will be scrambling for teachers in a statewide market expected to be 150,000-instructors short by the turn of the century. And the school district, the fourth largest in the state, will need two new high schools plus $37 million to maintain the aging facilities on its 79 existing campuses.

Even today, with fewer problems, many Long Beach students have few skills when they graduate, he said, and employers complain they do not fit into the workplace.

Protests New Projects

Williams mentioned only in passing the current dispute between the city and the school district. In a lawsuit filed in May, the district is trying to force the city to consider the effect of all new construction on school enrollment. It has said that imposing a fee on developers might be one way to offset the effect of new homes, offices and hotels. The district has formally protested every construction project before the city for the last two months.

Councilwoman Jan Hall noted the city's lack of legal jurisdiction over educational matters and said she was "concerned" about how much cooperation the council, or a council-created steering committee, would get from the school district.

"We are operating in an interesting world right now," she said. "and we are feeling somewhat frustrated."

Williams and Mayor Ernie Kell assured her that the school district, Long Beach City College, California State University, Long Beach, and Catholic schools all had representatives on the task force and have pledged to cooperate with it. Williams said he will take the task force's findings and recommendations to those other bodies for consideration.

Kell, in an interview, also said the city may be on its way to resolving its differences with the district. In a letter received within the last week, the district said it would file no more protests about construction projects for one month while the parties negotiate, he said.

Taken Seriously

The Education Task Force, unlike other "blue-ribbon" committees that have come and gone over the years, will be taken seriously, said Kell.

"These are quality people with a lot of credibility," the mayor said, "so it's easier to sell their recommendations."

The 18-member Education Task Force is one of seven created by the City Council last fall to develop a Year 2000 plan.

In addition to education, the task forces have considered basic services (such as health, public safety and libraries); the quality of housing; the city's physical facilities (such as streets, parks, sewers and public buildings); economic development; quality of life (such as culture and recreation) and transportation.

Four of the task forces have submitted final reports. All recommendations will be considered at a public meeting Oct. 19, followed by a series of council meetings, "trying to set priorities and price tags," said Kell.

"We intend to implement as many of these things as financially possible," he said.

Creation of a broad-based permanent steering committee for education, the foundation for Education Task Force recommendations, is a "strong possibility," said Kell.

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