Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Three Seats will be filled, including one for a new Eastside district. : DISTRICT 6 : Remapping Puts Korenstein Against Strong Opposition


Incumbent Julie Korenstein is running for the school board in a new mid-San Fernando Valley district that includes about 60% of the voters she represented before last year's reapportionment.

Despite the familiar political base, Korenstein has encountered vigorous opposition from longtime school Principal Eli Brent, who appears to be the strongest of three challengers. The others are teacher Lynne Kuznetsky of Encino and electrical contractor Richard (Ricc) Bieber of Northridge.

The four are running for the seat being vacated by Roberta Weintraub, who announced her retirement this year.

In a heated contest, Brent and Korenstein characterize each other as beholden to special interests in the school district.

Brent calls Korenstein a tool of the teachers union, which is backing her as it did in her two previous races. Korenstein, endorsed by the union this year, was the board's sole dissenter on a budget that would have cut teacher salaries by a cumulative 12%.

Korenstein denies that her vote is controlled by United Teachers-Los Angeles.

"We have differences of opinions," she said. "I'm not anyone's rubber stamp."

She parts from the union over breaking up the school district and says her goal is a separate Valley school system.

"The San Fernando Valley is geographically compact and would be able to run an efficient, cost-effective operation," said Korenstein, 49, a longtime Porter Ranch resident whose recent purchase of a Tarzana condominium made her eligible to run for the mid-Valley seat. "The San Fernando Valley Unified School District would be a very integrated school district."

Korenstein, in turn, accuses Brent of seeking to promote the interests of the district's highly paid bureaucrats, the good-old-boys network as she puts it.

Brent, 67, is the president of the school district's administrators union. He is supported by the union and by most of the district's other bargaining units, which have been at odds with UTLA throughout the budget crisis. Brent says he decided to run for office to help counter the political influence of the teachers union, which backed four of the seven members currently serving on the Board of Education.

"There's no balance" on the board, he said. "If Roberta Weintraub had not dropped out, I would not be here. . . . We can't let Julie have a free ride."

Brent supports a two-term limit for school board members and disclaims interest in using the board as a springboard to other office. He criticizes Korenstein for running, unsuccessfully, for the City Council in 1991.

Korenstein says she has not ruled out seeking higher office but has no plans to do so. She says she will concentrate on bringing more money into the school system, creating a Valley district and increasing campus safety.

Bieber, 40, promises to keep the job part time if he is elected.

"The folks on the school board have turned a part-time job into a career," he said.

Bieber accuses the board of poor management, saying that the district needs to be streamlined.

"Nobody on the school board knows how to run a business," he said. "We cannot afford the bureaucracy that has been foisted upon us."

Bieber, running a shoestring campaign, snaps at those who ignore him as a contender.

"I'm a serious candidate," he said. "In fact I'd like to think I'm Julie Korenstein's worst nightmare. Quite frankly, incumbents don't have the edge anymore."

Kuznetsky, 47, hopes to capitalize on disenchantment with the school district's leadership.

"There needs to be a change," she said.

Although she teaches at a San Fernando elementary school, Kuznetsky says she would not represent teachers to the exclusion of other groups.

"I'm not just for teachers. I'm for parents and the community. I'm working in the schools now, and I know what children need and what parents want."

Among the most pressing needs, she says, is extra campus security, possibly in the form of retired police officers and organizations such as the Guardian Angels. The district must also provide more after-school programs to keep children off the streets, she says.

Kuznetsky advocates breaking the school system into at least seven smaller districts, each with no more than 100,000 students. This would include at least two districts in the Valley. Kuznetsky says the smaller districts would find it easier to implement the widely heralded LEARN reforms to decentralize power to principals, teachers and parents.

Brent also supports the board-adopted LEARN plan. He says the proposals should be given a chance to succeed before anyone carves up the school district.

"If LEARN doesn't work, I think we've lost another urban school system," he said.

Korenstein voted for the plan, but she has expressed reservations about how it will be funded.

Bieber says the board railroaded the plan through and questions whether parents will sustain the involvement it calls for.

"They're going to lose interest after six months, and we're going to be back to Square 1," he said.

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