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Assembly Committee Delays Vote on Breakup : Schools: Panel lacks votes needed for passage. The bill would take the first steps toward dividing the L.A. district into smaller units.


Foreshadowing a tough battle for proponents of splitting up the giant Los Angeles school district, a state Assembly committee set aside a bill Wednesday that would pave the way for a breakup, but approved a competing proposal to preserve the present district by expanding the powers of local school officials.

Because the nine votes needed for passage were lacking, the Education Committee postponed voting on a measure by Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills) that would take the first steps to divide the Los Angeles Unified School District into at least seven independent units.

Boland now has until next week to recruit enough votes to push her proposal over its first legislative hurdle, which she conceded would be "a fight."

"It does give us a week to lobby the committee some more," Boland aide Kris Frank said of the decision to defer action.

At the same hearing Wednesday, committee members voted 11 to 1 in favor of a counterproposal by Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach) that would preserve the school district but transfer most budgetary authority and decisions on curriculum to principals, teachers and parents on individual campuses. The proposal borrows many suggestions from the widely heralded LEARN plan adopted by the Los Angeles Board of Education last month.

Karnette, a former teacher who was elected to the Assembly in November, said she offered her measure as an alternative to carving up the district, which critics contend will lead to racially segregated school systems.

"It is a realistic vehicle for a restructuring of Los Angeles Unified," Karnette said of her plan. "It's not a breakup. Smaller school districts don't help children learn."

Advocates of splintering the Los Angeles school system scored an important victory in the upper house of the Legislature last week when the Senate Education Committee approved a bill by Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys). Nearly identical to Boland's measure, the Roberti proposal calls for the appointment of a commission to draft a plan for dividing the 640,000-student school district--the nation's second largest--into units of no more than 100,000 students each.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) has vowed to block the proposal in the Assembly, where observers agree a district breakup will meet its stiffest legislative opposition.

Also against the breakup plan is the Los Angeles teachers union, which instead supports the bill by Karnette, who served as the union's treasurer in the early 1980s. Karnette, however, denied accusations Wednesday that she is acting for the union and said her measure "is an outgrowth of a unified approach"--including the LEARN proposals--to solving the problems facing the Los Angeles school system.

She acknowledged that her bill was approved Wednesday only "in concept" and that it required "a great deal more discussion" at its next stop, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, which must pass the measure before it can be voted on by the full Assembly. The proposal would then be subject to amendment and Senate approval.

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