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Long Beach Solution to Overcrowded Schools : Majority of Board Favors Year-Round Sessions

January 15, 1987|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A majority of school board members now say they favor year-round sessions in as many as four of this city's 55 elementary schools, probably beginning in July, 1988.

"We hope it will happen," said John Kashiwabara, president of the board. "Unless it happens, we will not be able to house the students we are getting."

"This may be the only way to find out if it works," said James Zarifes, a board member who had previously expressed strong reservations regarding year-round schools.

A Partial Solution

Both were present at this week's board meeting when a 16-member committee of teachers and administrators recommended year-round schools as a partial solution to overcrowding in the district. Administrators in recent months have mentioned the idea on several occasions as a distinct possibility in light of increasing enrollments coupled with limited funds for constructing new schools. Although the board took no formal action on the recommendation, most members said in interviews afterward that they favor the idea.

"I think it will fly out of sheer desperation," board member Harriet Williams said. "I will definitely vote for it."

Members of the committee--set up in November by Supt. E. Tom Giugni to look into the possibility of year-round schools--said they will return to the board next month with a specific proposal naming which schools will be included in the plan.

Frequent Vacations

Their report recommends implementing a system under which students would be divided into four groups, each of which would attend school for 60 days followed by 20 days of vacation. Although the report recommends assigning students to the program based on where they live, it emphasizes that participation would be voluntary. Parents at designated schools would be given the option of having their children bused to magnet programs still on the traditional schedule. The report does not address how many families might be unwilling to participate in year-round schools.

Among advantages of the system, according to the report, are reduced loss of student skills during the shorter vacation periods between school sessions, better attendance due to the increased frequency of vacations, and less vandalism to school buildings that are occupied for a greater percentage of the time.

The report estimates that conversion to a year-round operation would increase each school's capacity by about one-third. Thus by implementing the plan at four schools, committee members told the board, the district could initially increase its capacity by about 800 students. The district now has more than 65,000 students and is growing at a rate of 1,500 to 2,000 each year.

"Essentially we're buying time," Kashiwabara said. "Eventually we would have to expand the number of schools involved."

Air-Conditioning Costs

There would also be additional costs, which, according to the committee's report, could include air conditioning for the hot summer months and increased year-round maintenance. Mary Anne Mays, the district's deputy director of facilities funding, estimated that installation of air-conditioning units would cost $600,000 to $800,000 per school. Although that money would be partially offset by increased state funding based on higher daily attendance and special state incentives of up to $150 per year per student, it is unlikely, Mays said, that the income would equal the expense.

"I don't know where the money is going to come from," she said. "At this point we don't have it."

A possible solution to the problem was proposed by deputy superintendent Charles Carpenter, who suggested that the program initially involve schools near the ocean that could be cooled by natural breezes rather than by air-conditioning units.

That prompted an angry response from the parent of a child at Minnie Gant Elementary School who said her home is one mile from the ocean, yet still reaches temperatures of 110 degrees in the summer. "I wouldn't want my child to go to school under those circumstances," said Yolanda Weis.

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