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Roberti's Bill to Break Up L.A. School District Clears Committee : Education: Full floor vote in Senate may come next week. He says he will begin marshaling support in the Assembly, where measure faces tougher struggle.

June 04, 1993|CYNTHIA H. CRAFT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — With his bill to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District sailing through a state Senate committee Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) said he will soon begin focusing on an anticipated uphill struggle in the Assembly.

"I think I'll be very successful in the Senate," Roberti said of an upcoming floor vote, possibly as early as next week, by the full Senate. "Obviously, the battleground will be in the Assembly. I know it's going to be tough, and I'm trying to gather my support."

Roberti, who appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee as his colleagues overwhelmingly approved his bill by a 9-1 vote, also released an audit that he said shows money mismanagement in the Los Angeles district.

His bill would establish a 26-member commission to propose carving the 640,000-student system into at least seven smaller entities and would place the issue on the November, 1994, ballot.

In an interview after the committee vote, Roberti said he believes that Gov. Pete Wilson is sympathetic to his effort to reform the much-maligned district. Roberti added that he will urge the governor to come out with a statement favoring his legislation.

But the governor's top education adviser, Maureen DiMarco, said Roberti may have spoken too soon. The Wilson Adminstration is still studying the proposal, she said.

DiMarco said the governor's office has raised two questions about Roberti's bill that the senator's staff has yet to answer: First, if a district breakup is necessary, why not do it through the existing county government process? Second, what criteria would Roberti's commission use to judge a school district's effectiveness?

"I think there are still issues to be talked about," DiMarco said. "I wouldn't say that there is sympathy or a lack of sympathy at this point."

In the Senate-commissioned audit that Roberti released, the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche criticized the district's accounting system as archaic and wasteful.

The audit's findings, Roberti said, bolster his case for breaking up the mammoth district and demonstrate that in its proposed dismantling, enough savings would be found to cover the estimated $20 million to $40 million cost of extra tutoring and counseling the bill requires.

"The district should have cleaned up its fiscal mess years ago, but the audit raises disturbing questions about whether it is capable of doing so even now," Roberti said.

The report also faulted the district for using an accounting system that "is inadequate to support the basic financial information requirements necessary to manage a large, complex school district."

The Senate leader is widely expected to garner enough votes for the bill in the upper chamber of the Legislature. But he faces stiff opposition in the Assembly from Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

In a recent interview with The Times, Brown predicted that the Roberti measure will fail. "I don't think any bill will pass that would assume a breakup" of the district, he said.

Brown said the Roberti bill goes too far by determining that the district will be dismantled even before the proposed commission is set up to study the issue.

Times education writer Stephanie Chavez contributed to this story.

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