Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Los Angeles School Board : Three Seats will be filled, including one for a new Eastside district. : DISTRICT 4 : Slavkin Faces Stiff Opposition for New Seat


In the new District 4, which stretches from Chatsworth to Westchester, incumbent Mark Slavkin is seeking a return to the Los Angeles Board of Education on the strength of his political support on the Westside.

About 60% of the district's voters live south of Mulholland Drive. That is good for Slavkin, who represented the Westside exclusively until last year's reapportionment put him in a district that includes West Los Angeles and the western San Fernando Valley.

He may run into stiffer-than-expected opposition from Douglas Lasken, a second-grade teacher from Woodland Hills, and Judy Solkovits, a past president of United Teachers-Los Angeles.

Both threaten to pick up some of the teacher support that Slavkin, 31, received in 1989 as a UTLA-endorsed candidate. And both hope that the discontent with the Los Angeles Unified School District will cost the incumbent.

"I have a lot of verbal support from teachers," Lasken, 47, said. "I'm aware that he's a tough candidate. He's hard-working and a smart politician, but he has serious weaknesses."

"I expect support from teachers, very definitely," said Solkovits, 58, who headed UTLA from 1980 to 1984. She left teaching after 18 years in 1984 and is a Northridge business consultant. Her husband and son are teachers in the Los Angeles school system.

This year, Slavkin did not regain the UTLA endorsement that he acknowledged was a major factor in his election four years ago. Teachers expressed displeasure with his vote to slash their pay by a cumulative 12%--a cut later reduced to 10% under a contract settlement mediated by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.

However, neither of Slavkin's challengers received the formal backing of the district's largest bargaining group, although Lasken is a teacher and Solkovits is a former leader of the organization.

Lasken cites that as proof that he does not answer to an organized interest group.

"I'm not endorsed by them, and they're not giving me any money," he said of UTLA. "I would not promote teacher interests in some divisive fashion."

Solkovits said she is not beholden to the union she once headed.

However, "I have been incredibly concerned about the teaching profession," she said. "I firmly believe that the people who most have the interests of the kids at heart are teachers."

All candidates agree that reform is necessary to restore confidence in a school system rocked by financial turmoil and labor strife. They support a plan adopted by the group LEARN to shift authority from the central administration to individual schools.

But Lasken believes the plan is being overemphasized as a cure for the city's deteriorating public schools. He said he is skeptical of LEARN's plan to tap private funds to finance its reforms, which will cost millions of dollars.

Solkovits faults Slavkin and his colleagues for failing to implement such reforms sooner. "Why hasn't the board been working on something like that in the past four years?" she asked.

Slavkin says he was the first on the seven-member school board to publicly embrace the LEARN proposals. He also offers an even more radical blueprint for restructuring the nation's second-largest school system: Get rid of the Board of Education and permit each high school complex, composed of the high school and its feeder junior high and elementary campuses, to run its own affairs.

Slavkin says his solution is born partly from his experience with the Palisades High School complex, where schools already collaborate on many issues. Allowing the district's 49 complexes to rule themselves is his version of breaking up the school system--an issue that is important to many people who live north of the Sepulveda Pass.

The drive to divide the district was revived last summer after the City Council redrew school board boundaries and eliminated one of two all-Valley seats. Many Valley residents complained that their interests had been ignored.

The West Valley remains the crucible of the breakup movement. Of the three District 4 candidates, only Lasken supports carving the school system into several smaller pieces, which he says would increase accountability.

Slavkin says the current breakup effort does not go far enough.

"I'm not interested in replicating top-down school district structures that govern schools from afar," he said. "What's the point? To have a new set of politicians in Van Nuys to yell at?"

Solkovits opposes splitting up the school district. She accuses city and school officials of using the issue as a political football that diverts attention from the problems schools face, such as inadequate funding and an increasingly needy student population.

The school board, she says, has failed to set spending priorities to ensure campus safety and equip classrooms with the latest technology. She says she would devote her attention to putting district funds to their best use and raising the level of community and parent involvement.

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