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Foes of All-Year Schools Approach Job of Persuading Board With Tact

November 16, 1986|PAMELA MORELAND | Times Staff Writer

As they begin to do battle with the school board of Los Angeles over year-round schools, San Fernando Valley parents are hoping to avoid the bitterness encountered in fights over mandatory busing and the closing of schools with low enrollments.

The bad feelings generated by the anti-busing movement of the 1970s, which had its roots in the Valley, were compounded in the early 1980s when Valley parents sued the district to stop it from closing schools. The effort failed, but some board members said they still harbor resentment over the confrontation.

This time around, Valley parents are aware that they need to persuade a majority on the school board to abandon the plan to shift more schools in the district to a year-round calendar.

"We have to be positive. We can't afford to bitch," said Barbara Romey, whose children attend Topeka Drive School in Northridge.

Thus Valley parents are trying to show the board that the fast-growing student population can be accommodated without making most of the district's schools year-round.

"We have to talk about all the children, not just Valley children," Sharon Moran, president of the Topeka Drive School Parent and Faculty Assn., recently told an auditorium full of parents.

"We can't whine. We can't tell the board that we'll leave the public school system if they don't do it our way. That won't work. We have to come up with the alternatives. We have to present positive reasons why this is the wrong place for a year-round school," Moran said.

The parents' pragmatic attitude is in part an outgrowth of the political realities of the school board. Board liberals Jackie Goldberg, Larry Gonzalez and Rita Walters have been joined by moderates Alan Gershman and John Greenwood and conservative Tom Bartman in favoring year-round schedules for some schools as an answer to the district's classroom shortage.

Only East Valley board member Roberta Weintraub said she will vote against the year-round plan. Weintraub said she hopes to find alternatives to year-round schedules, but concedes that they are "inevitable."

Weintraub and Bartman both rode the anti-busing movement to posts on the school board.

Under the proposal, up to 78 Los Angeles city schools could be converted from a traditional September-June school year to a 12-month schedule beginning July 1, 1987. Thirty-eight Valley schools--more than in any other part of the district--are being considered for the change. There are now 93 district schools on year-round calendars, 14 of them in the Valley.

Year-round schools increase their capacity by dividing students into several groups, with at least one of those groups on vacation at any given time. By making more schools year-round, the district hopes to accommodate the enrollment of 635,000 expected by 1990.

Reasons Listed

Parents give many reasons for opposing a year-round schedule. Some say it is harder to obtain child care when vacations are broken up into short periods throughout the year. Others say it will eliminate traditional summer activities such as camp, study abroad and family vacations.

Valley parents are particularly concerned about students riding buses and studying in classrooms that are not air-conditioned in the summer. At the public hearing on Thursday, parents provided evidence that, in the summer, the Valley is 16 degrees hotter than coastal communities and 9 degrees hotter than downtown Los Angeles.

"The climate in the Valley, especially in the summertime, is not ideal for learning," said Jorge Aguilar, a Topeka Drive parent. "Conditions are even worse for the children who will be bused. They will be forced to spend an hour and a half in a hot, crowded bus--this on top of spending six hours in a hot classroom."

He labeled this "a legal form of child abuse."

Counterproductive Tactics

But, as strongly as many parents feel on the issue, they have learned the hard way that angry protests can make board members dig in their heels deeper.

According to a district official who has worked closely with several Los Angeles school boards, battles in the past between Valley parents and board members "left a particularly bad taste in the mouths of board members."

Some of them believed Valley parents "were adopting racist attitudes. Sometimes, it was almost as if the Valley parents were saying, 'I've got mine, and I don't care what happens to others,' " the district official said.

Privately, school board members say they still harbor ill will toward Valley parents over their stance on mandatory busing and school closings.

In an acknowledgement that hard feelings remain, parents involved in the new fight have asked those recognized as leaders in the two other issues not to speak this time before the board.

Earlier this year, the board voted 5 to 2 to change the entire district gradually to a year-round calendar by 1991.

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