The only certainty about the Los Angeles city school district's proposal to convert all schools to year-round operation by 1991 is that it won't go down easily with parents and community leaders in most parts of the sprawling urban district.
The proposal, outlined by Supt. Harry Handler at a school board meeting Monday, calls for placing all district schools on a year-round schedule in order to cope with a projected enrollment increase of 70,000 students over the next five years.
Public hearings are expected to be scheduled this month, and a board vote may come as soon as December. Handler's other proposals include the reopening of nine closed schools in the West San Fernando Valley and the enlargement of classes in some inner-city schools.
School board members offered tentative support for the year-round plan, saying it is a necessary solution to overcrowding problems and also has many educational benefits. Educators believe, for example, that students tend to retain more knowledge if vacations are shorter than the traditional three months.
Under a year-round concept, more students can be accommodated because one-fourth of the student body is always on vacation. Students may attend school three out of four quarters each year or go to school for perhaps nine weeks and then have three weeks off.
"This is a whole new take on what school ought to be," said board member Alan Gershman, whose Westside region presently has few year-round schools. "I'm one of those folks who has been long impressed with the definite advantages posed by year-round schooling. There are definitely some educational advantages. I am really eager for people to have an open mind in approaching this."
But Verena Temple, president of the 10th District Parent-Teacher-Student Assn. (PTSA), which encompasses all of the school district except for the San Fernando Valley, was more cautious.
'Change Is Difficult'
"It may be a necessity. . . . But it obviously is going to be a very difficult thing to do. And any change is difficult for a lot of people to handle."
Her counterpart in the Valley, 31st District PTSA President Peggy Barber, was less guarded.
"Since word leaked out about this a couple of months ago, we've had a lot of parents really upset. They see it as another way of disrupting the educational program. We've had busing, we've had CAP (the district's Capacity Adjustment Program, in which students from overcrowded schools are bused to schools with more space), we've had reconfiguration, we've had the sixth period taken away and put back in. There have been all kinds of changes all over the place. It makes it difficult to keep enthusiasm going for schools when there is all that disruption."
Norma Cantu, education director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, was troubled about the plan's effect on school integration. As part of the proposal, Handler suggested changing the definition of an integrated school as one with 70% minority students, instead of the current limit of 60%.
"The 70/30 ratio," she said, "will result in an increase in segregation. That is troubling."
Parents' main concern appears to be the loss of the traditional summer break, which would occur under year-round schooling.
"I would be extremely saddened" if the proposal wins approval, said Carole Keen, a parent and school activist in Carson. "Summertime is family time for most people. I don't think that in the summer students can give true focus to their studies; their minds will be somewhere else."
Others parents are troubled by the effect year-round school may have on parent involvement in schools, course offerings and athletic programs. They fear that a school in which students attend class in staggered cycles may result in the loss of some electives during certain cycles or may make it harder for some students to participate in extracurricular activities.
"One of my main concerns is what this will do to high school sports programs, as well as organized sports at the elementary level, such as Little League," said Pacific Palisades parent Bill Bruns. "Those three-week breaks will play havoc with these sports. Parents will want to go on a trip but their kid . . . doesn't want to miss games."
In the Southeast portion of the school district, where most schools have been on year-round schedules for several years, reaction was mixed.
According to Willene Cooper of the South Gate-based Legislative Committtee on School Overcrowding, the system has worked, although initially parents strongly opposed it. But she said parents will be upset if the district adopts a year-round schedule that differs from the timetables operating in Southeast-area schools now. At present, two different year-round formulas are used.
Time of Stability
"Last year was the first time we had any kind of stability," she said. "To even consider doing a lot of tearing down and rebuilding is not a happy thought."
Cooper and other parents said they want more information about how the year-round plan will work. They also urged school district officials to move cautiously and allow sufficient time to plan for the change.
"The ball is in our court now," said board President Rita Walters. "When we have such severe overcrowding, we can't continue business as usual. I certainly believe the superintendent has given us excellent food for thought."