LONG BEACH — The City Council has taken a major step toward placing the issue of regional school board elections on the Nov. 4 ballot, despite a warning by school board President John Kashiwabara that to do so would put a "very severe strain" on relations between the board and the council.
"To rush headlong into this tells me that you are not really confident it would withstand the scrutiny of a blue-ribbon committee," Kashiwabara told the council. "This deserves more than a rubber-stamp approval."
Nonetheless, the council voted 5 to 3 Tuesday to instruct City Atty. John Calhoun to draft a proposed amendment to the City Charter for adoption July 29. If approved by voters in November, the measure would divide the Long Beach Unified School District into five sub-districts, each of which would elect its own representative to the school board. Currently the five board members are elected citywide.
"This is a national movement," said council member Wallace Edgerton in explaining why he supported district elections. "It's part of a national progression of democratic thinking."
Added council member Warren Harwood, another supporter: "The process started here tonight can make good things happen in the community."
The decision capped several weeks of lobbying by Citizens for a Representative School Board, a coalition of about 20 community organizations including Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, the National Organization for Women, the City Employees Assn. and the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach. Two years ago the same group collected enough signatures to place a similar measure on the 1984 ballot, only to have it ultimately rejected by 54% of the voters.
This time, supporters say, the outcome will be different because the demographics of the city have changed, the problems of the school district have become more obvious and the current proposal would retain the present number of board members rather than increase it by two as the defeated measure proposed.
Proponents argue that a regionally elected school board would be more responsive to the needs of individual communities and more likely to include members of minority groups, while those opposed to the measure--including most school board members and Supt. E. Tom Giugni--say the change would fragment an effective board and disenfranchise the many parents whose children attend schools outside their own neighborhoods.
In addition to instituting regional elections, the proposed charter amendment would make school board elections concurrent with the City Council elections held in even-number years. Because four of the present board members live in what would be the same sub-district, it would also eliminate the board seats of at least three of them, thus potentially affecting the way the city's schools are run for years.
Citing that effect, council members Jan Hall, Thomas Clark and Edd Tuttle voted against putting the measure on the November ballot, suggesting instead that a blue ribbon task force be appointed to study the matter.
"It makes no sense to me," said Hall, referring to the specific sub-district boundaries proposed by the coalition. "If we make a change, it needs to have some logic."
But the majority of the council rejected the notion of a task force, maintaining instead that voters should decide. "If it's a bad idea," said council member Ray Grabinski, "it will be defeated."
Sid Solomon, secretary of Citizens for a Representative School Board, said his group hopes to spend at least $32,000 between now and November to make sure that doesn't happen. "We feel very good about this," Solomon said after the council meeting. "Now we can move ahead with our campaign."
Some of those on the other side of the issue, meanwhile, were beginning to plan campaigns of their own.
"When the voters have a chance to study this fully," predicted Assistant School Supt. Charles Carpenter, "it will be rejected."