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Dever Hits School District for Lax Building Fund Effort

September 22, 1985|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — In another flare-up in a yearlong dispute between City Hall and the school district, City Manager John Dever has criticized school officials for pressing for a developers' fee to pay for classrooms instead of working harder to get available state funding.

"(The school district) ought to apply today for all the state assistance that's available," Dever told the City Council on Tuesday in a report on ways to solve a classroom shortage the district expects by 1987.

"The state people we talked to could not understand why they (the school district) haven't filed their plan and taken the necessary actions to get in line (for state funds)," he said.

Instead school officials have spent "most of their effort" trying to get the council to impose fees for schools on new Long Beach developments and in trying to get money from the city Redevelopment Agency, Dever added.

Surprised and irritated by Dever's comments, district officials said the city manager was simply wrong.

District Working

The Long Beach Unified School District first contacted the State Allocation Board about classroom funding last October and has worked with the state ever since, spokesman Richard Van Der Laan said.

"Our staff has devoted hundreds of hours to gathering the data required by the state to qualify for limited state funds," said Van Der Laan "We have 2 1/2 feet of documents prepared as part of this application."

Whoever is right--and an interview with a State Allocation Board representative indicates both sides may be right in part--this most recent dispute has created a feeling among council members and school trustees that their differences should be quickly resolved. But after 13 months of discussion and debate, city and district staffs remain at loggerheads over projections of school enrollment--and still disagree on how to best provide more classrooms in a district already near capacity and expected to have at least 20,000 more students by 1999.

"To criticize the board of education is counterproductive," said Mayor Ernie Kell in a Wednesday interview. "My relationship with the board has been excellent. I did not share (in the staff's criticism). They are reasonable people and they are as anxious to work something out as we are."

Urges Negotiation

Kell said it is time for council and school board members to take the issue from their staffs and negotiate with each other personally.

The criticism is "our staff's opinion," Kell said of Dever's comments and a 35-page enrollment and funding analysis distributed to the City Council. "Now, it's time for the elected officials on both sides to see if there is room for compromise."

At the council's urging, Kell sent a letter Wednesday to school board President Arlene Solomon recommending formation of a committee composed primarily of council and school board members.

Solomon was at an education conference and unavailable for comment. But veteran school board member Elizabeth Wallace said the committee sounded like a good idea and that she was eager to resolve past differences.

"This kind of adversarial relationship doesn't help public confidence in either the school district or the City Council," she said.

"I'm puzzled myself by all this," she said. "We're not saying let's slap these (development) fees on everyone. We're saying let's study it and see what's reasonable."

City and school district disagreements already have gone to court, with the district filing a lawsuit in May over the inadequacy of the city's environmental impact reports for new developments. School officials say they hope the suit will force the city to consider the effect new construction has on school enrollment, and perhaps prompt imposition of a fee on developers of new homes, offices and hotels.

Protests Projects

In addition, the district has formally protested every construction project before the city since early May.

In turn, city officials have insisted that most proposed new construction would have only a negligible effect on school enrollment and that school crowding will come mostly from the immigration of large Latino and Southeast Asian families.

Fees on developers--usually imposed in growing suburban communities to pay for new roads, utilities and schools--might unfairly discourage new construction in Long Beach, city officials have argued.

Enrollment in the district's 79 schools was 63,127 on Wednesday, up from 55,263 in 1979, and nearly all classrooms are at capacity, said Van Der Laan.

Conversion of about 200 rooms not now used for instruction would take care of a continuing increase of students until about 1987, when enrollment should reach 67,000, he said. After that, other means would have to be used, he said. The city has not built a new school in decades, and has used temporary bungalows in times of peak enrollment.

The district projects an enrollment of at least 88,500 by 1999, while the city staff says 81,000 is a more realistic figure.

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