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Board Weighs Year-Round School : Education: Waves of immigrants' children have boosted enrollment. Seven major measures are being studied after temporary solutions have failed.

December 28, 1989|LORI GRANGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Faced with rising student enrollments, choked playgrounds, the resumption of busing and growing frustration among teachers, Glendale school administrators appear to be ready to embrace year-round education, despite opposition by parents who fear drastic change in the city's public schools.

Converting at least some schools to a year-round schedule is the most dramatic of seven major measures being reviewed by the Glendale Unified School District to control spiraling student enrollment, now nearing the highest levels in two decades.

Until now, the district has used busing, portable classrooms, boundary changes and some construction as Band-Aids for overcrowded campuses, all of which are in southern Glendale. But dwindling funds, space and public patience for such measures have demanded greater action, officials acknowledged.

"Something has to be done," said Jane Whitaker, president of the Glendale Board of Education. "It's agonizing. But the problem isn't going to wait for us."

This year's enrollment of about 24,200, expected to grow by at least 200 in the spring, is nearing the record highs of the 1960s, when more than 25,000 students attended Glendale schools. But today's district has five fewer campuses because of closures between 1979 and 1983 due to dwindling enrollment and high operating costs.

School district officials said a long-term alternative should be in place by September, 1991, with short-term, stopgap measures--such as busing and use of portable trailers--applied in the meantime.

The Board of Education ultimately will decide what remedy to apply. A preliminary decision, at least, is expected by summer. But a task force of administrators, teachers, parents and businessmen, which since September has been reviewing year-round education and other prospects, will offer recommendations in a report due Feb. 6.

Rough drafts of that report will be available at all the schools after Jan. 17, and the public will be able to comment on them at a Jan. 24 hearing, set for 7 p.m. in the Wilson Junior High auditorium.

The options include:

* Year-round education. In general, students would be divided into "tracks" that attend class on a rotating basis, with one group on vacation while the others are in school.

About 20 variations of five or six basic year-round plans are in use nationwide, but many more schedules are possible, according to state department of education research. In one plan, for instance, the school year is divided into four nine-week quarters, increasing the school's capacity by 25%. When tracks 1, 2 and 3 are attending classes, track 4 is on vacation. When track 4 returns, track 1 goes on vacation.

Another plan would divide the year into three 60-day sessions, each separated by a 20-day vacation period. The schedules could be voluntary or mandatory, state research indicates.

Year-round schooling, the most controversial measure considered, also may be the most practical, some task force members contend. Advocates hold that year-round scheduling makes more efficient use of facilities and provides better continuity for teachers and students. Most important, they say, it can increase a school's capacity by 25% or more, depending on how many tracks are created.

Most members of the task force have endorsed the concept, under certain conditions: that all year-round schools have air-conditioning; that children in the same families stay on the same track; that school scheduling be coordinated with social services and activities, and that parents and personnel be directly involved in its planning. Concerns about scheduling of vacations, summer jobs and extracurricular activities, however, make the option more appealing for elementary campuses than junior or senior high schools, the task force has agreed.

The state is encouraging districts to convert to year-round schooling by offering them money for air conditioning, which is needed for classes during the summer. But its $31-million fund, flooded with requests from districts statewide, is expected to run dry within a year. And the Glendale district, overcrowded only in its southern schools, may not qualify as a high priority, state officials warn.

"Districts need to move it" and apply for assistance, said John Jenkin, a supervisor with the Dept. of General Services in Sacramento, which oversees the air-conditioning coffer. "There's no guarantee that when the dollars are gone, there'll be anything around to replace them."

Despite funding uncertainties, most educators agree year-round schooling is the likely option to be chosen. Board of Education members say they are waiting for the task force report--but most acknowledge it is the leading contender.

"I wouldn't be surprised if that's the way it does go," Whitaker said. "It makes sense economically and makes the most efficient use of buildings."

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