The Los Angeles school board voted Monday to postpone until at least March 1 a decision on its controversial plan to place all 618 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District on year-round operation in 1989.
The 4-3 decision, which came one week after the board had approved a year-round plan, opened the way for additional public hearings on an issue it has debated extensively and emotionally over the past three years.
The action was taken at the request of Warren Furutani, the board member who provided the swing vote in favor of the year-round plan last week. Critics have accused Furutani, who represents a portion of the district stretching from Watts to San Pedro, of waffling under the weight of public pressure against the plan. But he told colleagues that this step was necessary because the board did not properly notify the public of last Monday's vote approving the year-round plan.
"People can conjecture all they want about my motives," he said. "The question here is process. . . . The issue of process is critical to me, and that is why I am raising all this fervor" now.
The board said it will make a final decision after a committee submits a report March 1 on the issue.
Year-round schooling was presented as the best way to solve severe overcrowding until enough new classrooms could be built. Last Monday's 4-3 decision called for placing every elementary, junior and senior high school on year-round operation by July, 1989. The board also agreed to place 14 severely overcrowded schools on a year-round schedule next July, pending parental approval.
Under the year-round plan, the majority of schools would follow a "single-track" schedule in which all students begin class in July and have shorter vacation breaks interspersed throughout the year. This schedule would apply to uncrowded schools and because all students would be in class at the same time, no additional space would result.
Overcrowded schools, however, would use a "multi-track" calendar, which adds seats by dividing students into several rotating groups on different vacation schedules.
The decision to delay final action on this proposal was applauded by at least one board member, East San Fernando Valley representative Roberta Weintraub, who opposes year-round schools.
'A Second Chance'
"This gives us a second chance, which a political body rarely gets," she said, adding that she hoped Furutani would change his vote and oppose districtwide year-round schools.
But two board members who favor a districtwide plan for 1989, Rita Walters and Jackie Goldberg, did not hide their anger Monday at Furutani. Even one member who opposed the year-round plan, Alan Gershman, said he had mixed feelings about delaying a final decision, even though he went along with Monday's postponement.
"We've opened up this can worms and we're going to leave it open for a while now," Gershman said.
The Westside board member said he was afraid that postponing a decision would create "unrealistic expectations" in the public about Furutani's intentions. "People I've run into on the Westside are just delighted and have concluded that Mr. Furutani is going to change his vote."
Final Vote Sought
Gershman pressed Monday for a final vote on the proposal, but failed. He said Furutani told him at the close of Monday's meeting that he would have abstained from such a vote.
However, Furutani has maintained that he still favors the concept of a year-round calendar for every school in the district.
Goldberg, who represents dozens of severely crowded schools downtown, in the Wilshire Corridor, Hollywood, and in northeast Los Angeles, said she viewed Monday's 4-3 decision to delay further as an act of "institutional suicide." She said it will destroy the board's credibility across the district, especially in the minority neighborhoods where year-round schools have been in operation for several years.
"What we're about to do tonight," she said before the board voted on Furutani's motion, "is break that good faith with one part of the community in order to appease" another part. "I appreciate that you believe in what you're doing," she told Furutani, "but the consequences will be vastly different than you intended."
One parent, Northridge resident Barbara Romey, who has vociferously opposed year-round schooling, said the board's decision Monday did not go far enough.
"For the board to say that they're going to have a dog-and-pony show is not good enough," said Romey, who heads a group called Parents for Quality Education (QUEST).
But, Susan Philips, a Fairfax-area parent who supports year-round schools for the entire district, callled the decision "a terrible one. This sends a message to parents and to kids that it's OK to have a two-tiered system"--a year-round system for crowded, mainly minority schools, and a traditional system for uncrowded, mostly white schools.
Board member Weintraub said she wants the board to "take this show on the road" and hold hearings in each region of the district over the next five months. The board decided that the hearings will be held by the board's committee on community affairs, which is chaired by Furutani. No schedule of hearings has been set.
Meanwhile, the district will proceed with a task force of parents, teachers, students and community members to study year-round calendars and make a recommendation to the board. No guidelines have been established for that panel, however, and no members have been appointed.