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Furutani Asks New Debate, Vote on School Schedule

October 16, 1987|LARRY GORDON and ELAINE WOO | Times Education Writers

Warren Furutani, the crucial swing vote in the Los Angeles school board's 4-3 decision this week to put the entire district on a year-round calendar by 1989, said Thursday that he will ask the board to vote again on the issue after hearing more public debate.

Furutani said he will make the motion at the board's meeting Monday. He stressed that he has not changed his mind on the controversial issue, although he said he realizes his move may hearten opponents of the year-round plan.

The board, he said, did not allow enough time for parents and teachers to consider the changed calendar. "I feel, as an individual board member, I made a mistake and the board moved too quickly," said Furutani, who narrowly won election in April in the 7th District, which runs from Watts to Los Angeles Harbor. "I think we compromised a process. If we don't correct it, we will compromise a trust. I refused to start my career as a board member on the wrong foot."

All three board members who voted against the year-round calendar said Thursday that they would support a motion for reconsideration. Officials said a final decision might not take place for at least six months. About a quarter of the district's 592,000 students are already on that schedule.

Furutani's statements added confusion to an issue that has attracted national attention for its possible effects on family life, child care, summer jobs, sports and even the tourist trade. The Los Angeles school board, which governs the second-largest public school system in the nation, has never reversed itself on such a major decision.

Roberta Weintraub, one of the three votes against the year-round decision, said she welcomed Furutani's new position. "I'm really glad he has done some thinking about it. Anything we can do to calm the situation down and get some input is a good thing," said Weintraub, who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley, where the calendar switch is unpopular.

Westside board member Alan Gershman said he agreed with Furutani that not enough has been heard from the public on the matter.

But asked what would be the impression if the board ultimately decides to revoke its vote, Gershman responded: "The people are going to wonder, 'Do they know what in the hell they are doing down there?' "

Gershman, Weintraub and Julie Korenstein, the other board member who voted against the year-round calendar, are all up for reelection in April.

Years of Discussion

Jackie Goldberg, one of the four board members who voted for the year-round plan, said she did not believe that the board acted in haste when it voted Monday. "We've been discussing this for five years, and certainly for the last three and a half years, very intensely."

Goldberg said the reconsideration would appear as if the board were buckling to pressure from the parents, particularly on the Westside and in the Valley.

"The message this will send is that if people shout enough and make enough noise, those people in affluent areas of the district . . . are more apt to get what they want" than other people, she said.

Furutani, a former administrator of a program for Asian students at UCLA and the first person of Asian descent elected to the school board, said protests from parents opposed to the switch contributed to his decision. After the board voted in favor of the switch, there was talk in Furutani's district of a recall movement against him. Only about 20% of his district is year-round.

Intense Pressure

Weintraub said that the pressures on Furutani were especially strong because he is new. "New board members sometimes find the trauma of initiation very difficult," she said, adding that she considers his action courageous.

Year-round students attend school the same amount of time as their counterparts in regular-schedule schools, but vacation breaks are interspersed throughout the year instead of being concentrated in the summer.

The board was expected to vote last Monday on one of three proposals to place different categories of schools on year-round calendars. Instead, it came up with a plan affecting every school.

School Conversions

As a first step, the board agreed to convert 14 severely overcrowded elementary schools to year-round operation next year and to place three schools now under construction on the schedule.

In July, 1989, all L.A. city schools would go year-round, with the most crowded ones adopting a so-called multitrack approach in which some students are in school while others are on vacation.

Opponents predict a mass exodus from the district similar to the "white flight" to private schools that followed forced busing in the 1970s.

Supporters say the plan is preferable to busing students to less-crowded schools and has academic advantages because more and shorter vacations prevent teacher burnout and give students less chance to forget what they learn.

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