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County Panel OKs Lomita's Secession From L.A. Schools

December 07, 1986|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

LOMITA — Despite strong protests from the Los Angeles Unified School District, a county committee has recommended that Lomita be allowed to secede from the Los Angeles district and set up its own school system.

By a vote of 6 to 4 last week, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization approved Lomita's petition to pull out of the Los Angeles district after a majority of committee members agreed that Lomita's approximately 2,100 students would be enough for a separate district, and that educational programs in the Los Angeles district would not be disrupted by the pullout.

However, the committee, which has one vacancy, split 5 to 5 on whether Lomita's withdrawal would promote racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation. That was one of several issues the panel had to consider before making a final recommendation.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials have maintained that a separate Lomita district, which would be predominantly white, would result in a higher concentration of minorities in Los Angeles schools.

The committee's recommendation now goes to the state Board of Education, which will conduct its own study of the proposed secession and decide whether it should be put to a public vote. If the issue is put to a vote, the board also will decide whether the entire Los Angeles district, or just Lomita residents, will vote.

The committee on school district organization is composed of members elected by school boards throughout the county. The committee hears arguments and makes decisions or recommendations on such issues as whether local school district boundaries should be altered.

The committee's findings on some issues are final if there is no opposition, but findings pertaining to secession drives are never binding, according to Debra Simons, spokeswoman for the committee.

The Lomita secession drive began about two years ago with the formation of the Committee to Reorganize Lomita's Schools. The group successfully gathered the signatures of 25% of the city's estimated 10,000 voters--the number needed to formally initiate secession proceedings with the county.

Neglect Claimed

Proponents of the secession drive charge that the community's schools have been neglected by the Los Angeles Unified School District's large bureaucracy. A separate district, proponents maintain, would provide more local control and better financial management.

Wayne Stark, a Lawndale computer engineer who is chairman of the county committee, said the panel's vote in favor of the secession effort was an endorsement of local control and a response to the "frustration people experience in trying to make themselves heard in a large and seemingly impersonal district."

Stark, who voted in favor of the petition, said committee members who opposed the petition were concerned that a separate Lomita school district, by virtue of its small size, would have high administrative costs for items such as insurance.

Robert Hargrave, a Lomita city councilman and chairman of the community's school committee, was out of town on city business and could not be reached for comment. But several residents active in the secession drive said they were delighted with the county committee's vote. Lomita Mayor Hal Hall called the panel's decision "wonderful."

District 'a Monstrosity'

"I think the L.A. Unified School District is a monstrosity," Hall said. "That's the word I've used before, and I'll use it again. The district is just too big. We're a community-minded community, believe me."

Los Angeles school board member John Greenwood, who represents the southern part of the district and has vociferously opposed the creation of a Lomita school district, said the county committee's decision did not surprise him because many of the committee's members come from small communities with their own school districts.

"A lot of them are local-government-oriented individuals, so it is not surprising that on an issue that pertains to local authority that they would make this recommendation," Greenwood said.

Greenwood predicted that the issue of ethnic makeup will "loom even more formidable" when the state Board of Education studies the issue. If Lomita were allowed to break away from Los Angeles, he said, it would make it even more difficult for Los Angeles to integrate its schools.

82% Minority

Enrollment at Los Angeles district schools is 82% minority. In the 1980 Census, Lomita's population was 77% white.

Moreover, Greenwood said that if Lomita is allowed to form its own district, Los Angeles would lose 450 student spaces at Fleming Junior High School at a time when junior high schools in the area are overcrowded.

Don Reedy, the Los Angeles district's manager of contractual relations, said that if Lomita is allowed to secede, Los Angeles would lose three school facilities now located in Lomita that it urgently needs.

"We have a desperate need for housing within our district, particularly within South Los Angeles where the school population is exploding," Reedy said. This takes three schools out of our arsenal, if you will."

Advocates of secession acknowledge that the three school buildings in Lomita would provide more space than the new district would need, but say that Lomita could agree to accept students from Los Angeles to ease that district's overcrowding.

Stark speculated that if the state Board of Education does decide to put the issue to a public vote, the earliest it would be placed on the ballot would be November, 1987.

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