LOMITA — Efforts by a group of Lomita parents and city officials to secede from the Los Angeles Unified School District were boosted this week when more than 60 other residents pledged their support for the campaign.
Voicing discontent with what they see as an unwieldy and unresponsive Los Angeles school district, the Lomita residents almost unanimously voted at a meeting on Tuesday to launch a petition drive that could lead to formal secession proceedings with the county Committee on School District Organization.
If residents submit petitions signed by at least 25% of Lomita's 9,169 registered voters, the county committee must hold a public hearing on the secession plan within 60 days. The petitions, which must be drawn up by the county committee, are expected to begin circulating by late January.
"We have a core group of people at this meeting, but the number of people supporting this is really overwhelming," said Robert Hargrave, a Lomita councilman who is chairman of the secession campaign.
Aim for 50%
"We're going to aim to get more than 50% of the signatures of our registered voters to show that we have a majority of residents who want this," he said.
Leaders of the secession campaign, which began last month, have an unlimited amount of time to garner the signatures, according to the state Education Code. But Hargrave said the group hopes to do so by the end of the school year in June.
Indeed, many residents at the meeting expressed a sense of urgency about the move, which they said was necessary to provide local control over the quality of education in the community of 20,000. Although residents acknowledged that they may be accused of having racist motivations, they insisted that providing "home rule" is their only concern. The district's student population is 82% minority, while Lomita is predominantly white.
"It's obvious that our kids aren't getting their fair share right now," said Rick Luther, a Lomita resident of 11 years and a father of two children attending Lomita schools. "Some of the schools downtown have computers, and we have science books in Eshelman Avenue Elementary that say we haven't landed on the moon yet."
(Eshelman Principal William Bennett confirmed that the school's science texts predate the 1969 lunar landing, but he said new books are being ordered for next year.)
Closer to Problems
"I think it's time that we're entitled to some autonomy," said Lomita Councilman Leonard Loy, who like the rest of the City Council has endorsed the secession campaign. "The school district is so large. It's like our federal government--so far away and so remote that you can't touch it. . . . We could run the schools better in Lomita. We are closer to the problems."
Most of Lomita's 2,037 public school students are taught in three schools--Eshelman, Lomita Fundamental Magnet School and Fleming Junior High School. If a move to create a Lomita school district is successful, the community will elect its own five- or seven-member school board.
That prospect delighted some parents who are sending their children to private schools rather than have them attend campuses that are part of the 578,000-pupil Los Angeles system, the nation's second largest.
"This is a reason for me to consider putting my children back in Lomita schools," said Cori Arrighi, a resident of 10 years and a mother of two school-age children who currently attend private schools.
Work Out Details
Although many details of the proposed reorganization have yet to be worked out, some residents have suggested that the community use its three schools to house all of Lomita's students, including high school students who currently attend Narbonne High in Harbor City. The three schools can house more than 3,000 students, or at least 900 more than the Lomita student population.
The extra space, residents suggested, could be contracted out to the Los Angeles Unified School District.
According to the state Education Code, existing school buildings in Lomita would be transferred to a newly formed school district at no cost to the community. However, the new district would probably have to assume a fraction of Los Angeles Unified's bonded indebtedness, said Richard Wales, director of school organization and elections for the county school committee.
But while many arrangements remain uncertain, Hargrave said his group believes that the cost of creating a Lomita school district is feasible. He said Lomita could pay for such debts and other costs of education the same way that the larger Los Angeles district does--through state per-pupil revenue allotments, federal subsidies and California Lottery money.
Taxes for residents of Lomita, Hargrave added, probably would not have to be increased to support the creation of a new school district. But resident Carole Schoepflin asserted: "Even if our property taxes increased, it would be worth it."