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District Breakup Plan Wins Latest Round : Education: With a crucial test in the Assembly lying ahead, Senate leader is asking Gov. Wilson to back his proposal for Los Angeles schools.

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

SACRAMENTO — With his bill to break up the massive Los Angeles school district sailing through a Senate committee Thursday, Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) said he will attempt to enlist Gov. Pete Wilson's support for an uphill struggle in the Assembly.

"I think I'll be very successful in the Senate," Roberti said of an upcoming floor vote by the full Senate possibly as early as next week. "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 Thursday that he said shows money mismanagement by an unwieldy Los Angeles Unified School District.

His bill would establish a 26-member commission to propose carving the massive 640,000-student district 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 the governor is "sympathetic" to his effort to reform the much-maligned district, and he will urge the governor to formally endorse his legislation.

"The signals I've received from him are more sympathetic than not," Roberti said, noting that the issue of school reform has captured the attention of concerned parents and public officials throughout California.

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

DiMarco said the governor's office has raised two primary questions about Roberti's bill that the state senator's staff has yet to answer: First, why not accomplish the breakup through the existing county government process? Secondly, 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 Thursday, the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche criticized the school 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, as proposed, enough savings would come from the dismantling 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.

Among other things, the report 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."

Roberti cited as an example of inefficiency the audit's disclosure that the district bought computers to centralize its accounting procedures two years ago and has yet to plug them in.

"They spent $25 million for new, pretty computers, and they haven't even been distributed," he said. "My point is the system is just too big to operate efficiently."

Los Angeles school officials did not return phone calls to respond to the audit, the second to reveal problems in the district in recent weeks. A management audit by Arthur Anderson & Co. commissioned by the district reported that it suffers from excessive bureaucracy.

As leader of the Senate, Roberti is widely expected to garner enough votes 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 the Roberti measure will fail. "I don't think any bill will pass that would assume a breakup" in the Los Angeles school district, he said.

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

"If the Roberti bill was a commission to study and evaluate what should be done with the L.A. district, with the recommendation to then come up with legislation, I would support it," Brown said. "But . . . I don't think he can ask me to vote for a measure that has a conclusion in it without any support or factual data."

Not since 1969 has the Legislature succeeded in agreeing on a measure to downsize the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest. Ultimately, however, that bill failed when then Gov. Ronald Reagan vetoed it.

Times staff writer Stephanie Chavez contributed to this story.

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