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LOCAL ELECTIONS / L.A. SCHOOL BOARD : District 4 Race Becomes a Battle of the 'Wests'

April 04, 1993|HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The race for the Los Angeles school board district that stretches from Porter Ranch to Los Angeles International Airport pits a popular incumbent against two San Fernando Valley challengers in a potential battle of the "Wests"--the West Valley versus the Westside.

Trustee Mark Slavkin, 31, seeking a second term on the Board of Education, enjoys strong support on the Westside, where he lives and which he represented exclusively until last summer's reapportionment dumped him into the newly configured District 4.

Hoping to unseat Slavkin are Douglas Lasken, an elementary school teacher, and Judy Solkovits, a past president of the Los Angeles teachers union. Both are West Valley residents who hope to siphon away some of the teacher backing that helped propel Slavkin to victory in the last election as the seven-member board's youngest representative.

On paper, the Westside Wunderkind still seems to hold an edge: 60% of the electorate in District 4 lives south of Mulholland Drive.

But Lasken, of Woodland Hills, believes that Slavkin is vulnerable in the April 20 primary, especially in a year where dissatisfaction with the Los Angeles Unified School District is running high. The nation's second-largest public school system has taken a loud and public beating in recent months over issues ranging from a threatened teachers strike to the on-campus shooting deaths of two students.

"He's the incumbent," said Lasken, 47, who teaches second grade at a Hollywood elementary school. "He's been there for four years, and when you talk to people--and this includes the Westside--they're not happy. He's got the George Bush problem."

Lasken and Solkovits, who once headed United Teachers-Los Angeles, are counting heavily on teacher support in their campaigns. They note that Slavkin, who voted for a deeply unpopular 12% pay cut for teachers, did not regain the UTLA endorsement that he acknowledges helped boost his political fortunes as a fresh-faced newcomer four years ago.

Critics note that last month Slavkin voted to oppose a district breakup. But he said the motion calls on the Board of Education to take a stand against breakup plans "that do not focus on improving the educational environment and options of our students."

"The proposal before us had nothing in it I couldn't agree to," he said.

For her part, Solkovits opposes splitting the school system, although she--like Slavkin and, to some extent, Lasken--supports the recently adopted LEARN reforms that would decentralize authority to individual schools.

All three candidates agree that many issues transcend geographical boundaries, affecting both the West Valley and the Westside, as well as the rest of the district.

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