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Pomona Weighs All-Year Schools

September 23, 1990|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Strapped by increasingly crowded classrooms and almost 1,000 new students each year, the Pomona Unified School District plans to launch year-round classes at two elementary schools by July, 1991.

Until now, the discussion has been limited to a feasibility study and the appointment of an administrator to choose the pilot schools and coordinate the transition.

Tuesday evening, the district will hold a hearing to publicly outline its proposal and gather comments from parents, teachers and students.

"With the rapid growth we're getting, we can't build schools fast enough, and this is an alternative," said Jo Roberts, principal of Mendoza Elementary School, who heads the Pomona district's task force on year-round schools.

About 12% of California students already attend year-round schools, state education officials say.

The concept involves scheduling students on various "tracks" that run throughout the year. Vacations are staggered so that districts can hold classes in rooms that formerly sat empty for the three summer months. A typical track calls for students to attend classes for 90 days, then take 30 days off, although districts can choose from among five schedules set by the state.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 137 schools are open year-round, some parents initially complained that tracking made it impossible for families to take summer vacations together. But no similar opposition has surfaced in Pomona.

A spokesman for the Pomona Teacher's Union said he supports year-round schools. Pomona PTA Vice President Jo Bugley said that her group hasn't taken a position but that she thinks year-round schools are a good idea.

The Pomona district would be the third in the San Gabriel Valley to have year-round schools, following the Garvey Elementary and El Monte City Elementary districts, where administrators say teachers and students are generally satisfied.

But unlike those smaller districts, where year-round schools are more of an experiment than a necessity, Pomona Unified faces a serious overcrowding problem.

If year-round programs are successful at the two pilot elementary schools, which have not been chosen, the district may apply the concept in other schools.

It all depends on whether current growth patterns continue. The district, with about 25,200 students, has been expanding steadily at a rate of 4% a year. Most of the new students flood into elementary schools in southeast Pomona, which includes Alcott, Philadelphia and Washington elementary schools, officials said.

To make room, the district, which includes some students from Diamond Bar, recently bought land in that community to build a new elementary school. And it has applied for state funds to build a new high school and three other elementary schools in Pomona, district spokeswoman Nancy York said.

But those facilities are years away from completion, and officials see year-round tracking as a more immediate way to alleviate overcrowding.

Statewide, more and more school districts are adopting the idea, especially since 1987, when the Legislature tied state funds for new school construction to implementation of year-round schools.

Currently, districts with 35% of their pupils in year-round programs go to the head of the list for state funds. Those at the bottom of the list may still qualify for construction funding but are unlikely to receive it in lean times, state officials said.

As a result, the last year has seen a 42% jump in the number of districts beginning year-round programs, said Tom Payne, a consultant on year-round education for the state Department of Education.

"It's the wave of the future," Payne said. "If districts want state construction funds to build new schools, there's really no alternative."

Payne said the idea of year-round schools causes near hysteria in some districts but is approved without a whimper in others.

Locally, three of the El Monte City Elementary School District's 18 elementary schools are year-round, and officials said the adjustment has been smooth.

"Our staff and teachers and parents like it, so we're keeping it, even though we don't have an urgent need to do so," said Supt. Jeff Seymour.

In the Garvey Elementary School District, Duff Elementary School has been on a year-round schedule for six years, and the district plans to expand the program to Rice School, whose faculty recently approved the concept.

"You burn out secretaries and administrators because they have to be there all the time, but there are also advantages," said Duff Principal Ray Sparks, whose students attend school for nine weeks and then get three weeks off.

"My faculty here, every one of them would come up in arms if you were going to mess with year-round schools," Duff said. "They like those three weeks off. It seems to rejuvenate them."

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