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Making the Most of Schools

October 14, 1987

After postponing the inevitable, a pragmatic majority of the Los Angeles School Board has finally voted to put all schools on a year-round calendar. The unpopular new schedule, controversial yet necessary, will relieve overcrowding and treat all students equally.

Close to 600,000 youngsters attend public schools in the mammoth Los Angeles district. The lucky majority attends schools close to home on the traditional September to June schedule. But, as the enrollment grows, more schools are running out of room. Already, about 130,000 youngsters attend school on a year-round schedule, in such crowded communities as the Mid-Wilshire, Hollywood and South Gate. Staggering weeks of study with brief vacations, the program keeps classrooms open during the summer and increases, by 25% to 33%, the capacity of each school.

The overcrowding is expected to get worst. This year's enrollment increase of only 2,000 children is considered an aberration by experts, who have coped with increases of 10,000 a year since 1985.

Faced with projections of greater overcrowding, a majority of the school board did what they had to do and ordered year-round schools for everyone. The implementation date, July of 1989, will allow adequate time for preparation and planning.

Problems remain. Parents naturally want their children to share the same vacation schedule even when they attend different schools. That is reasonable. Parents also want child-care and recreation services adjusted to the new calendar so that the schedule changes will not result in more latchkey children roaming unsupervised after school. Supt. Leonard Britton is expected to appoint a task force to work out the details to meet those concerns.

The task force should also focus on how to pay for air conditioning, which could cost as much as $300 million. Children and teachers cannot be expected to work through the sweltering summer months, with temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees, without air conditioning.

Los Angeles educators have spent years grappling with where to put children in the nation's second largest district. New schools are the ideal solution, but there is no money available at this time for a massive construction program. Year-round schools, a troubling remedy, is the best that the school board can offer, for now.

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