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LOCAL ELECTIONS / L.A. SCHOOL BOARD : Candidates Disagree on Splitting District

April 15, 1993|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The three-way race for the Westside seat on the Los Angeles school board offers something for everyone.

The candidates, all well-qualified, have diverse backgrounds and diverse views on virtually every issue facing the city's floundering public education system: One wants to break up the school district, another is vehemently opposed, while a third falls somewhere in-between with a plan to restructure it into complexes of schools.

Only one lives on the Westside--where 60% of the votes are concentrated--and sends his child to school here; the other two live and have their power base in the western San Fernando Valley.

All support making condoms available to students, although one would require parental consent.

But the three wholly agree on one point: that there are more differences between the needs of individual schools than between "Westside schools" and "Valley schools."

As incumbent Mark Slavkin put it, "Stoner Avenue School (next to the Mar Vista Gardens housing project) is an altogether different reality than that of Roscomare Road School at the top of Bel-Air. We've got to put decision-making at the local site, whether it's in Chatsworth or Venice."

The three are vying in Tuesday's election for the newly created District 4, which stretches from Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley south through Westchester. None has been endorsed by United Teachers-Los Angeles, the teachers union.

Slavkin, 31, a former deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman, was elected to the board in 1989. He lives in West Los Angeles and sends his son to Canfield Avenue Elementary.

Challenger Douglas Lasken, 47, of Woodland Hills, teaches second grade at Ramona School in Hollywood, and has two children in Valley public schools.

The third candidate, Judy Solkovits, 58, of Northridge, is a former teacher and former teachers union president, who now handles negotiations for clerical unions at Walt Disney and Paramount studios. Her three children were educated in district schools, where her husband and son now teach.

Asked to discuss the most important issue facing the school district, the candidates gave very different answers.

Solkovits said the biggest challenge would be to restore the public's faith in schools and ensure that available monies are being used wisely.

"Low teacher morale is the No. 1 problem," Lasken said.

"We need to restructure the entire system and rebuild public support and confidence," Slavkin said.

Here is how the candidates stand on other key issues:

Dividing the District

Lasken said he strongly favors breaking up the massive Los Angeles Unified School District into smaller districts accountable to the communities they serve. "The move to secede from the district is near-unanimous in the West Valley and has support in West Los Angeles as well, though not quite as much." Incumbent Slavkin, Lasken contends, "dances around the issue and calls secession too strong, even though 40% of his new district is intensely in favor of breaking off."

Slavkin has proposed abolishing a central school board, creating complexes of high schools and feeder campuses in each area that would run themselves while contracting with the district for certain services, such as busing. His plan would allow parents of children at overcrowded schools to choose where to send their youngsters.

Solkovits opposes breaking up the school district, saying the process would be too lengthy and costly, when other problems are more pressing. She said such a breakup would merely create many small bureaucracies in the guise of educational reform; she would maintain busing in its current form.

Campus Safety

Slavkin wants gun-toting students automatically expelled, supports the use of metal detectors, and recently pushed through an Emergency Task Force on Youth Violence charged with developing a plan to combat rising violence in and around schools. He opposes the district's "opportunity transfer" policy that allows troublemakers to switch schools.

Solkovits said the present board ignored growing violence until it got out of control, but she has not put forth specific solutions beyond revamping the opportunity transfer policy.

Lasken, calling metal detectors "fine but no panacea," wants school-based management committees to have the right to review the records of all bused and opportunity transfer students, and to refuse admission to any child with a police or school record of violent behavior or of cutting classes. He favors enactment of laws making parents of minors responsible for their actions.

"Right now, kids can do anything and still stay in school," he said. He also favors automatic expulsion for weapons possession, saying, "We cannot contain the number of violent kids we have; they are destroying the schools."

School Calendar

All three candidates are critical of the current year-round schedule.

Slavkin, in a proposal to be voted on after the election, would allow each high school complex to adopt its own schedule.

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