With heated debate, the Los Angeles school board Monday opened discussion of changing the minority-white ratio at some of the district's magnet schools from 60-40 to 70-30 as a way of easing crowding in the district.
The proposal, made last month by board member Jackie Goldberg, asks the district to undertake a school-by-school study of some of the district's 86 magnet schools to determine whether the numbers of minority students could be increased.
The magnet program, which was started in the 1970s as a means of voluntarily integrating the district, allows students from all parts of the district to attend schools that offer special academic programs and teaching methods. Goldberg would like to see if the numbers of minority students could be increased at the magnet schools because regular minority schools are the most crowded in the district.
The board for years has been wrestling with overcrowding in the sprawling district of nearly 600,000 students--the nation's second-largest behind New York. Recent attention has focused on proposals for year-round schooling to create more classroom space. But the board, after initially approving a year-round plan, last month put the concept on hold at least until March.
The 60-40 ratio was set by a court in order to ensure that magnet schools achieve racial integration. But the board has the power to increase the number of minority students under certain circumstances.
The board is not scheduled to vote on Goldberg's magnet proposal until Nov. 16. But Monday's preliminary discussion of the proposal revealed an emotional split in the board between the six-member majority, which is believed to support the proposed study, and board member Roberta Weintraub, who is expected to vote against the proposal.
Board President Rita Walters expressed indignation that Weintraub had asked that the principals of magnet schools to be studied notify parents and other interested parties before the board had even decided whether it would initiate a study.
Walters described Weintraub's request for notification as "inordinate" and inappropriate. Walters suggested that Weintraub had requested such notification as a way to rally support of parents and others against Goldberg's proposal.
"Maybe what is being requested is a little organizing against the motion," Walters said.
Other board members, including new member Leticia Quezada, echoed Walters' view that Weintraub had acted inappropriately. Weintraub said she had simply wanted to ensure that parents and other concerned parties are fully informed on the matter, especially in light of complaints that the board had not sufficiently informed the public during recent discussions of year-round schools.
"I refuse to accept this public chastisement," Weintraub said.
Goldberg said she was concerned that the public has the "misimpression" that endorsement of her proposal would necessarily result in changing the ethnic ratios at the magnet schools. Goldberg emphasized that she had proposed only that the matter be studied, using a process known as a McKinney analysis that is used throughout the state to determine if a school's numbers of minority students can be raised without leading to segregation.
Goldberg also asked that notice of the upcoming board vote be sent to additional "interested parties," including students on the waiting lists of the affected magnet schools. The district agreed to do so.
Weintraub said she was not disturbed by the heated session.
"This is nothing compared to what I've been through," said Weintraub, who was first elected to the board in 1979 as an anti-busing candidate.
Weintraub declined to state her position on the Goldberg proposal. But she expressed concern that reducing the percentage of white students in magnet schools could put them at risk of becoming segregated institutions.
"If what we're doing is taking the magnet program that is integrated at every level and making it a segregated program, yes, I'm opposed to it," Weintraub said.