Some Westside parents have accused the Los Angeles Unified School District of trying to force year-round schools on them and have threatened to put their children in private schools if the district goes ahead with its controversial plan.
The parents voiced their criticism at a series of community meetings organized by school board member Alan Gershman to discuss options for reducing overcrowding in the central and eastern sections of the district. One of the options includes operating Westside schools year-round, which would make classroom space available for students who would be bused in from the other sections.
The problem, according to Gershman, is that the Los Angeles district expects to grow by almost 70,000 students during the next five years and will not have enough classroom space to accommodate them.
"The reaction to the year-round plan has been largely negative," Gershman said. "Parents either don't want to hear it or they don't want to believe that something has to be done."
Gershman spoke Tuesday night at John Burroughs Junior High School. He has also addressed audiences at Paul Revere Junior High, Hamilton High and Mar Vista Elementary. He will conduct meetings at Westchester High on Monday, at Venice High on Tuesday and at Emerson Junior High on Wednesday.
Marie Green, Mar Vista Elementary School's PTA president, said after her meeting with Gershman that she was afraid he would vote for the plan despite the wishes of Westside parents.
"Gershman is not listening to the parents on the Westside," she said. "I don't think he is representing us. The majority of the parents on the Westside don't want this. We are not overcrowded so why make us go year-round?"
Gershman, however, said he has not decided whether he will support the year-round proposal.
"I have a dual responsibility," he said. "There is no question that I have to represent the best interests of those who sent me here," he said. "But at the same time my oath of office requires me to be a trustee for all the students. I can't shut out the facts because it is not a Westside problem."
Year-round schools are not new to Los Angeles. The district already operates 94 schools on a year-round calendar, but none are in Gershman's Westside district, which stretches from Mulholland Drive to Los Angeles International Airport and from La Brea Avenue to the ocean.
Gershman said the school board is expected to make a number of preliminary decisions on the matter next month and a final decision is expected in February.
"What it basically means is that the Westside is going to be impacted by the rapid population change in Los Angeles," he said. "Historically, we have coasted along pretty much unaffected by the enormous increase in other parts of the district. Yes, we have been receiving students from overcrowded schools and parents are vaguely aware that there are changes going on, but now we are coming right up against the hard facts."
Gershman faced the greatest opposition to the plan at Paul Revere Junior High School where when he addressed 300 people last week.
"I am opposed to it," said Amir Ronen, whose daughter attends the Brentwood Magnet Science School. "The children need stability, the teachers need stability. Mr. Gershman, you were elected by the community and you are ignoring the psychological needs of our children. Should you implement this system, I am prepared to pull my children out of the school system and put them in private school."
Mel Frohman, another parent of a Brentwood Magnet Science School student, told school officials at the Paul Revere meeting: "You are going to shove this down our throats no matter what we say. The board already destroyed the district with forced busing and now they are trying to do it again."
Despite the negative reaction, some parents admitted that there are some benefits to a year-round system.
Chris Price, Pacific Palisades Elementary School PTA president, said she was is opposed to the general concept but is against "rushing into a plan without preparation."
"I think there could be some real educational benefits to year-round schools," she said, citing the fact that students would retain more of what they have learned because there would be no long summer break. "Teachers will have more breaks and less burnout," she added. Gershman said there are some problems involved in switching to year-round schedules. He said, for example, that schools should not operate on a year-round basis until they are air conditioned and that the district has fallen behind in its program to provide air conditioning at its 12-month schools.
Gershman also said that some schools in his area are so small that moving to a year-round schedule would do little to substantially relieve overcrowding. He said that in those cases he would ask that the schools remain on their current schedules.