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Session on School Year Change Fizzles : Education: Few turn out for meeting on proposal to abandon year-round schedule. More hearings are in the offing.

April 27, 1993|SHARON BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The reporters were there, most of the school board members were there, but just six parents and teachers--and one regular gadfly--turned out for what had been expected to be an explosive school board meeting on whether to return most Los Angeles schools to a traditional school year.

But thanks to a technicality in the rules governing the way the Los Angeles Unified School District may adopt proposals, there could be as many as three more hearings on the subject.

There will be another when the board votes next Monday on the idea of abandoning the year-round calendar. If that hurdle is passed, the issue will be thrashed out again on May 6 and May 10, when the board would debate and finally vote on whether to actually do it.

At the special hearing on the subject Monday, parent Barry Mason, who lives in Hollywood but has three children in San Fernando Valley schools, said the current schedule puts children in classrooms without air-conditioning during the hottest months of the year--August and September--while giving them vacations during the coolest months--from late December to early February.

"I can't think of a single good thing that has come out of the common calendar," as the year-round schedule is known, he said. The schedule is particularly harmful to children who need to take advanced placement tests for college, he said, because there is no time in the regular school year for them to work with teachers to prepare for the exams. Instead, students must come to school during their breaks to take special classes, he said.

Two years ago, the school district switched to year-round schools as a way to accommodate an anticipated increase in enrollment without hiring more teachers or building more schools.

The more crowded schools are on a multitrack system, under which students share school buildings and teachers by attending class year-round, but during different seasons, with three-quarters of the students in class at any one time and and one quarter on vacation.

In practice, most schools remain on a single track, but it's not the traditional one. These students start school in August after just a two-month break, then continue until December, when they begin another break of eight weeks.

But Board member Julie Korenstein, who represents the San Fernando Valley on the board and supports the return to a traditional school year, said the system has not worked. She also insists that the shift to year-round classes was unnecessary, because the increase in enrollment failed to meet expectations.

"With the recession and people moving out of the state, the district has not grown as much as staff thought," she said.

All the year-round calendar has done, she said, is force students to attend school in the summer in stifling heat without air-conditioning.

Korenstein, who never supported the idea of year-round schools, has been working to eliminate them all spring.

Two weeks ago, in fact, the board appeared to be on the verge of endorsing a plan by Korenstein and board member Jeff Horton that would return most Los Angeles schools to a traditional fall-to-spring calendar.

At the last minute, however, Korenstein's allies backed off, depriving her of the four votes needed. The board agreed instead to consider the plan among several other options.

Korenstein blamed last-minute election politicking for the setback. She would not predict whether the proposal would prevail at next week's board meeting, when it will be considered again.

"I went in assuming there were four votes the last time," she said.

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