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Experimental School Plan Faces Snags : Education: Too few dollars and too many students may force L.A. schools to reject a plan to reopen and jointly run Prairie Street campus with CSUN.


Budget problems and soaring enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District could threaten a plan to reopen Prairie Street School as an experimental school operated jointly by Cal State Northridge and the district, officials say.

School district and CSUN officials have met several times since fall to discuss a joint use of the eight-acre Prairie school, which is surrounded on three sides by the CSUN campus, said Julie Korenstein, West Valley school board member. The former elementary school was closed in 1984 because of declining enrollment.

A formal proposal is expected to be presented to a school board subcommittee next month, CSUN spokeswoman Ann Salisbury said.

"We've talked about a variety of plans, including a training school for teachers," Korenstein said. "I can't imagine a better situation, having an elementary school campus adjacent to a state university."

But news this week that state revenue would be less than expected could force the Los Angeles school board to cut its $4-billion budget by as much as $200 million next year, which will make it difficult for district officials to even talk about spending money for an experimental school, Korenstein said.

The school district also is under pressure to find classroom space for its rapidly filling facilities before trying to create an experimental school, Korenstein said. School planners earlier this month told the board that the district will run out of classroom space in its elementary schools by June.

The board is considering a number of plans, including year-round school schedules and the reopening of closed schools, such as Prairie, to make more room for the 625,000 students expected to attend Los Angeles schools next fall.

"Given what we are experiencing in enrollment growth, we will need this site," said Gordon Wohlers, who is in charge of planning classroom space for the district.

Carolyn Ellner, dean of CSUN's School of Education, said the university and the school district would benefit from sharing students at a model school.

Teachers know firsthand the problems in the class but "a university has had the time to do research on good teaching and meeting the needs of diverse students. You get the best of both worlds," Ellner said.

The success of an experimental school would require that it enroll students who are representative of the district's population, Ellner said. Finding better ways of teaching students requires that an experimental school not be an "elite school," she said.

The CSUN School of Education is working with the Los Angeles school district on two other experimental programs, Ellner said. One program is to assist first-year teachers in the San Fernando Valley and a second is seeking suggestions from veteran teachers on changes in teacher training courses.

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