Beginning Monday, about three-fourths of the public elementary and junior high schools in Los Angeles will expand their playground hours in a move aimed partly at keeping "latchkey" children out of gangs.
The pilot program, which is scheduled to continue through June 30, was made possible by an unprecedented $1.84-million grant from the city at the behest of Mayor Tom Bradley and his chief political rival, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
Traditionally, school recreational programs have been funded by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which was forced to scale back playground hours after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.
The district, which currently operates the supervised sports and recreational programs at 532 elementary through senior high schools will keep playground gates open two hours later, until 6 p.m., at 301 of the schools.
At selected schools, playgrounds will be opened weekends-- for the first time at some elementary schools--from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Jim Sugahara, coordinator of the district's Youth Services Section, said the Experimental Extended Day and Recreation Program will provide children with a "safe place where their parents can pick them up after work."
Sugahara and his staff of four field officers have spent the past few weeks talking to principals, staffing the program and preparing flyers to get the word out to parents.
Although the program is designed specifically to keep the children of working parents off the streets and out of trouble in the hours after school, district officials said all children, including non-public school students, may participate in the free recreation activities.
The city's $1.84-million allocation will pay the salaries of two staff people at each school site to supervise children playing sports or involved in other activities.
"It was easier for the district to run the program, since we already had one in existence, rather than let the city go ahead and duplicate ours," Sugahara said.
'Have the Kids'
"It's cost-effective when you have the facilities in place," he said. "Also, we already have the kids."
The school district will pay administrative, custodial and worker's compensation costs, which are expected to total about $150,000 a year.
The program was patterned after a $50,500 pilot plan launched in August in Councilwoman Gloria Molina's inner-city district. The program caught the attention of Bradley and Yaroslavsky, his anticipated top rival in April's mayoral election.
Bradley recently has been pushing the city toward increased involvement with its schools in an effort to stem youth gang violence.
Yaroslavsky spearheaded the plan, which was approved Nov. 1 by the City Council, 11 to O, after a spirited two-hour debate, in which some council members advocated waiting for the results of Molina's pilot program.
In advancing the plan, Yaroslavsky noted, "Parents in Los Angeles will now have a free, supervised alternative for their kids' after-school and weekend activities."
The West Los Angeles councilman focused on another dimension in a subsequent nationally televised program on lagging youth physical fitness, predicting that the expanded playground hours will encourage children to increase their physical activity.