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The Times Poll : Year-Round Classes: Public Deeply Split

November 18, 1987|ELAINE WOO | Times Education Writer

Parents in the Los Angeles Unified School District are so deeply divided over year-round schools that rallying public support behind any particular solution may be extremely difficult, according to a new Los Angeles Times Poll.

One thing the parents do agree on, however, is that the present situation is unfair because students in some overcrowded schools are required to go year-round while those in other areas of the district remain on traditional schedules.

As a group, parents seem as ambivalent as their elected representatives on the school board on how best to ease overcrowding. The poll shows significant support among parents for a range of options--adding portable classrooms, reopening schools, districtwide year-round schedules, making only overcrowded schools year-round and more busing.

Avoidance Options

Despite the popular belief that parents tend to embrace year-round schools once they experience it firsthand, the poll does not show significantly stronger support for the idea among such parents. At the same time, a clear majority of all parents in the district said they would not send their children to private schools or move to another district to avoid a year-round plan.

"Parents are almost evenly split on the year-round issue," said Times Poll Director I. A. Lewis. "It's almost a question of whether you want to say the glass is half empty or half full. It's an issue people feel strongly about and it is going to be difficult to resolve. It's not just going to fade away."

The survey--the first comprehensive local opinion poll on the issue--found that 50% of district parents oppose year-round school, while 39% said they favor it. Among parents whose children now attend year-round schools, the split was 50% in favor and 45% opposed.

Sixty-eight percent of district parents said they don't think it is fair to have some children in the district go year-round while others remain on traditional calendars. Nineteen percent said such an arrangement is fair.

Thirty-one percent of district parents said that adding portable classrooms is the best way to ease school overcrowding, while 23% cited reopening schools. Sixteen percent said they thought the school board should approve a districtwide year-round plan, while 13% favor year-round schedules only for overcrowded schools. Seven percent said more busing is the solution.

Makeup of Respondents

The Times telephone poll, conducted Nov. 3-5, surveyed 1,778 Los Angeles County residents, including 908 district residents, 366 individuals with children in the district, and 112 parents of children now attending year-round schools.

Faced with a burgeoning enrollment, the Los Angeles school district has been grappling with the year-round issue for the last five years, with emotions running high on both sides. In recent years the school board placed 93 schools on year-round calendars, changed the integration ratios at certain schools and added hundreds of portable classrooms to crowded campuses. It continues to bus thousands of youngsters from crowded, mostly minority schools to schools with extra seats.

Year-round schooling does not mean students have no vacation time, but it can create more classroom space by having some students attend class while others are on vacation. The traditional three-month summer break is replaced by shorter vacations interspersed throughout the year.

On Oct. 12, the board approved a proposal to place all 618 district schools on year-round operation by July, 1989, a move that attracted national attention because it would have made Los Angeles the largest year-round school district in the nation.

But a week later, the board rescinded that decision at the request of newly elected board member Warren Furutani, who asked his colleagues to reconsider the issue at a later date to allow time for more public discussion. As a result, the board agreed to hold a series of public meetings throughout the district over the next three months and to take a new vote on the controversial issue sometime after March 1.

School board members differed in their interpretation of the poll result that showed district parents nearly evenly divided over year-round schools.

Goldberg Encouraged

Jackie Goldberg, a strong proponent of the districtwide plan, was encouraged by the results.

"Fifty percent (against year-round schools) is quite a positive sign," Goldberg said. "I think it's astonishing. . . . If you had taken the number of people who came to the board to speak, you would have assumed that 95% were against it. Maybe more people have begun to see the merit" of year-round scheduling.

But year-round opponent Roberta Weintraub said: "That's a high negative (50% opposed)," she said. "Year-round does not have much support. What does have support is doing anything to hold it off."

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