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Vote on New District Isn't Just Academic : Education: Carson voters will let the City Council know whether they like the idea of splitting from L.A. Unified. The vote is merely advisory, but advocates see it as a key first step.

June 04, 1993|RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carson voters will be asked next week if the city should take steps toward something no city has ever done: break away from the Los Angeles Unified School District to form its own system.

Since Los Angeles Unified was formed in 1961, no city has ever seceded, although one, Lomita, tried and small segments of others have been allowed to join other districts.

Despite the lack of precedent, backers of Proposition E--essentially a poll of voters asking if the City Council should sponsor forums and studies weighing the issue--say the time is right for the city to form its own system.

A recent study by a blue ribbon committee of the city's Human Relations Commission concluded it was feasible to form a district of about 15,000 students at a cost of about $60 million a year, with most of the funding coming from the state and federal government.

Opponents, however, question whether the funding would be sufficient and doubt the breakaway system could educate children any better than either the Los Angeles school system, to which the vast majority of Carson students go, or Compton's, which operates a single elementary school in the northern outskirts of the city.

Under state law, city councils do not play any formal role in the formation of a new school district and cannot spend public funds to support either side of the issue, according to City Atty. Glenn R. Watson.

To form its own district, Carson voters must petition a Los Angeles County school board committee for a new district. That committee then conducts hearings throughout the district, including within the boundaries of the proposed district, and prepares a recommendation and unification plan for the state Board of Education.

If the state board approves, it sets an election in territory that includes the proposed district, said Marc R. Forgy of the county office of education.

Lomita lost its fight in 1988 when the state board rejected its effort on grounds that losing Lomita's mostly white students would undermine desegregation in the Los Angeles system. A citizens group headed by a Lomita councilman formed last January to try again.

Both Lomita and some Carson breakaway advocates hope to benefit from proposed legislation that would carve up the Los Angeles district into seven systems of roughly 100,000 students each. A bill is pending in a state Senate committee, but a tough fight is expected if it goes before the full Legislature.

Previous breakup efforts in Sacramento over the past two decades have failed after intense lobbying against the proposals from Los Angeles Unified and its supporters.

Advocates of a Carson district contend that segregation would not be an issue since Carson is diverse, with African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and whites each comprising roughly a quarter of the city's population of 83,995.

A Carson district, advocates say, would be the cure for a litany of ills they contend have hamstrung the Los Angeles and Compton school systems, including poorly maintained schools and disregard for parental concerns.

A Carson district, they say, would allow residents to more closely monitor their children's education.

Some have derided advocates for letting emotions instead of logic guide their actions, but a key advocate, Carolyn Harris, parent of an 11th-grader, says emotions play an important role.

"It is an emotional issue for me," said Harris, who is coordinating a forum on the issue tonight at 7 on Continental Cablevision Channel 26. "It's just ridiculous how we have had to be subjected to what (the Los Angeles) board has wanted."

"The Board of Education has really just abdicated its responsibility," Harris said.

Decisions to allow condom distribution in schools, a year-round calendar, and contraceptive implants at a San Fernando Valley school have upset Carson parents who believe those steps have infringed on their values, Harris said.

"Will the next step be an abortion clinic?" Harris asked. "When will it end?"

With local control, advocates said they believe they will have a greater say in those issues and others.

"We are talking about building community pride," Harris said. "We want (Carson students) to do community service so they can be aware of what's going on in the community. We want to tie in with city services as much as we possibly can. We have not developed that to the fullest."

Carson students are "doing fairly well" academically, performing at or above the district average on state test scores, but Harris said a separate district would strive to do better.

Detractors dispute claims that smaller districts are better, noting that Compton is beset by a host of funding and management troubles and smaller districts often get less funding per pupil than larger ones.

Although the Human Relations Commission report said the bulk of a Carson district's $60-million budget would come from Washington and Sacramento, critics say that fails to take into account the possibility that the city might need to build another high school.

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