Today, after months of agonizing over such unpleasant scenarios as year-round sessions and larger classes--two proposed remedies to a growing classroom shortage--the Los Angeles school board will make some difficult choices.
"It's time to bite the bullet," said Larry Gonzalez, the Eastside board member who presided over a series of special weekly board meetings convened to explore solutions to the overcrowding dilemma. "The question is, will we bite all of it or just half of it? How far are we willing to go to provide adequate classroom space for all the children of this city?"
Told by Supt. Harry Handler in October that the district will have to make "dramatic and far-reaching" changes to provide 55,000 more classroom seats by 1990, the seven-member board has been studying 15 possible solutions, although members have said they find none of them particularly appealing. At its regular meeting today, the board will decide which proposals are best and instruct district staff to devise one or more plans based on these preferences. A final decision is expected in February.
The most controversial option by far is districtwide year-round sessions, which officials say would provide the most relief. Although many parents object to it, the year-round approach is favored by a board majority.
The proposal calls for phasing in a year-round system at all 618 district schools over a five-year period, including the 93 schools already operating year-round. Under this approach, a student body would be divided into several groups that attend school and have vacations at different times of the year, allowing a campus to be used all year instead of closing down during the summer. According to district staff, the expanded calendar could provide as many as 154,000 additional seats and would be less costly and less time-consuming than trying to build enough new schools to accommodate the anticipated rise in enrollment.
Harbor-area representative John Greenwood, one of the four board members who supports the year-round approach, said that year-round school is inevitable in the rapidly growing but financially strapped district.
"The real question is, is there a way to have a year-round schedule that will work for everybody?" he said. "We get different messages about that. People in South Gate, Huntington Park and Bell are very happy with their (year-round) schedule and don't want to go off it. Then we get messages from other areas that it's the worst thing that will ever happen. Well, it isn't the worst thing that could happen."
West San Fernando Valley board member David Armor sharply disagrees, however.
"I really do think it is misleading . . . to say that the only solution is year-round. It clearly is not, if you add up the numbers," he said.
According to Armor, the district could delay going year-round for six to eight years by employing other solutions. He would like to try increasing the average class size by two, using all available seats in segregated schools and adding bungalows to campuses with extra space.
On the secondary level, Armor particularly favors staggering the school day to extend the use of a campus. This approach would mean dividing the student body of a junior or senior high school into different groups that start and finish class at different times of the day. Those schools would operate from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a traditional two-semester schedule.
According to district staff, a junior or senior high school divided into four groups could increase its capacity by 33%, while a double session could make room for 90% more students.
"My feeling is that year-round schools should be the option of last resort, and we're not at the point of last resort," said Armor. "There are other options that would give us just as much space and would be a lot less expensive, a lot less disruptive and far more acceptable to the majority of parents, including the parents of children already in year-round schools."
Not Idle Threats
Roberta Weintraub, his counterpart in the East Valley, agrees. "I think the superintendent ought to do everything he can without going year-round," she said. "I've heard a lot of talk from parents about withdrawing from the school system, as they did during busing, if year-round is adopted. I don't consider those idle threats. It's a realistic appraisal of the situation."
But Board President Rita Walters, who represents South-Central and Southwest Los Angeles and favors the year-round approach, said the staggered sessions cannot provide a lasting solution. "Staggered schedules are not a panacea," she said. "I don't think they will prevent the district from going to a year-round program."