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Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Los Angeles School Board : Six Issues Facing Schools

April 11, 1993

The winners of the Los Angeles Unified School District board elections will face many challenges.

BREAKING UP THE DISTRICT

A vigorous movement is afoot to break up the giant Los Angeles Unified School District.

Prompted by parents' discontent, mainly in the San Fernando Valley and Westside, it is supported by prominent lawmakers including state Senate Leader David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who introduced a bill to make it possible.

Supporters say the district's sluggish, politicized bureaucracy is responsible for low student achievement, poor school facilities and escalating campus violence.

Roberti's bill would create a 25-member commission to write a plan to divide the district into at least seven systems of 100,000 or fewer pupils. Residents of the school district would vote on it.

The movement is opposed by minority civil rights organizations as rooted in racism and likely to lead to segregation and poor, inner-city school districts.

Latino activists went through a bruising redistricting battle last summer in which Valley school board seats were reshuffled to carve out a new, primarily Latino board district in Southeast and East Los Angeles. Some African-Americans argue that breaking up the district would unravel hard-fought court cases aimed at equalizing educational opportunities for minorities through busing.

SCHOOL VIOLENCE

Two fatal shootings in one month spotlighted school violence. In both cases, at Fairfax and Reseda high schools, students had carried guns to school.

The shootings followed one near-riot and several racial brawls between Latino and African-American students at high schools.

Campus tensions are high. Many students say they are afraid. Parents demand safety, even if it means more police presence.

After the shootings, parents and politicians criticized a decision not to screen students with metal detectors, which the board contended would be both oppressive and ineffective.

Under pressure, the district bought 300 hand-held detectors and has started random checks at high schools. The district has also installed a telephone hot line so students can report weapons.

There is no money for more counselors or security officers.

BUDGET DEFICIT

The district is in a deep financial crisis. Three years of budget cuts have reduced funding by about a third, to $3.9 billion.

Classes are larger. Extracurricular programs such as music and drama have been decimated. Administration has been trimmed.

Most controversial: $178 million in pay cuts, which moved the district to the brink of a teachers strike in February.

A last-minute deal reduced the cumulative pay cuts from 12% to 10%. To balance the budget, the district wants to raid restricted textbook and school supply funds, which raises legal questions.

Next year's bleak outlook: a $100-million shortfall. Officials are preparing for layoffs, including elimination of all school librarians, almost all attendance counselors and some school nurses.

Board members call budget options horrible. They want community leaders and parents to support more federal and state aid for education--California per-pupil spending is 41st in the nation.

TEACHERS CONTRACT

Although the threat of a teachers strike has faded, labor relations among the district's 55,000 full-time employees have been badly bruised and, with layoffs looming, are not expected to heal quickly.

Last year, the board cut salaries rather than imposing layoffs, which would have affected mainly non-teaching employees, many of them women and minorities.

The action enraged the 28,000-member United Teachers-Los Angeles. It argues for favored treatment of teachers, the professionals who are directly in charge of classroom education. Union President Helen Bernstein criticized the board for being what she calls "an employment agency."

Pay reductions and six months of bitter contract negotiations have put teacher morale at a low point. No one is happy with the cumulative 10% pay cut. With larger class size, instructors must do more work for less money. Many hope to leave the district.

Other employee unions--including the administrators'--have criticized the contract settlement.

Adding to the tensions have been provisions in contracts with the district's seven non-teaching unions that have prohibited school officials from giving teachers favored treatment in pay and fringe benefits.

NEW SUPERINTENDENT

The board must hire a school superintendent before June 30, when the temporary contract of Supt. Sid Thompson expires.

Thompson was appointed in October after the sudden resignation of Bill Anton, the first Latino to head the district.

The decision has ethnic as well as educational components. The appointment of Thompson, an African-American, followed two weeks in which Latino politicians and educators lobbied for the appointment of another Latino, Deputy Supt. Ruben Zacarias.

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