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Year-Round Schools Pit Outrage Against Class Overcrowding

October 11, 1987|ELAINE WOO | Times Education Writer

Since the Los Angeles Unified School District unveiled plans for more year-round schools last month, outraged parents have lined up at public meetings to hurl invective at the seven school board members, arguing that the change would spell calamity for family unity, child-care arrangements and children's health.

They have threatened to boot some board members out of office if the year-round expansion goes through. And many have warned that, like forced busing of the late 1970s and early 1980s, mandatory year-round school will cause a mass exodus of middle-class, Anglo parents from district schools.

"Those parents who can afford to will put their children in private schools," said an angry Chatsworth parent, who ended his blast at the school board with a call for San Fernando Valley schools to secede from the district.

Emotional Protests

The parents' emotional protests are virtually a replay of school board meetings in 1985 and last fall when, after a series of overwhelmingly negative public hearings, the board backed away from the apparently unpopular alternative.

So far, the board has declined to create additional year-round schools even though one-fourth of the district's 600,000 pupils already attend year-round campuses.

Meanwhile, district officials complain that they cannot build classrooms fast enough to serve the burgeoning school population. Since the fall of 1985, more than 20,000 new students entered district schools, and 14,000 new students a year are expected through 1996, when the total enrollment is projected to reach 707,000.

To keep pace, officials calculated that the district would have to build nine elementary schools, one junior high and one senior high every year, at an annual cost of $170 million.

Overcrowding Problem

Actual construction will be far off that pace, with only four new elementary schools scheduled to open over the next two years. Plans are in the works for other new campuses and expansion of existing schools, but those projects will not be completed fast enough to solve the overcrowding problem.

Meanwhile, the district is relying on portable bungalows and is busing more than 30,000 students from crowded campuses to schools with more space.

The greatest growth is occurring in predominantly Latino and Asian neighborhoods along the Wilshire Corridor, in the central city, the East San Fernando Valley and in the southeast cities of South Gate, Bell, Cudahy and Maywood.

On Monday at 2 p.m., the board will tackle the year-round issue once again, this time considering proposals that would also affect largely Anglo neighborhoods on the Westside and in the West San Fernando Valley, where overcrowding is not a problem.

It is uncertain what action, if any, the board will take. Some members say that enrollment is not climbing at the predicted pace. Until the figures are in, they say they cannot justify supporting a solution as radical as year-round schools.

'Don't Understand It'

"Public support of this is just about nil," said East San Fernando Valley board representative Roberta Weintraub, a staunch opponent of year-round plans. "People just don't understand it, and I don't blame them. If a school has got six empty classrooms, it's hard to say to them, 'Your school has to go year-round because some other school is packed to the rafters.' "

Consider, for example, the case of two Valley schools.

Only nine miles separate Sharp Avenue School in Pacoima and Germain Street School in Chatsworth. But the two elementary campuses might as well be on different planets, for they represent opposite sides of the complex debate over how best to deal with the district's mounting enrollment.

Computer Lab Sacrificed

Sharp, located in an area that attracts a large number of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, has 1,200 kindergarten through sixth-grade students--and not a seat to spare. Portable classrooms already occupy half of the playground, and this year, a computer lab was sacrificed to make room for more students. Forty-six neighborhood children who belong at Sharp must ride a bus an hour each day to attend a less crowded school in Canoga Park.

On a year-round schedule, those 46 youngsters could return to Sharp. A total of 200 to 300 extra spaces would be created at the school, which Principal Richard Sosapavon said he would have no problem filling, judging by the recent rapid growth in the neighborhood.

But Germain, in a middle-class, Anglo neighborhood, has a shrinking student body of 700 students. The school's principal said she expects to lose a few of her teachers before the end of the year because there are not enough students for them to teach. Diminishing enrollment is common in this part of the West San Fernando Valley, where the district closed several campuses in recent years.

Empty Seats

Nonetheless, Germain is on the list of potential year-round sites because its empty seats could be used by students from overcrowded schools that would also go year-round, according to district officials.

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