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Roberti May Put His Plan Before Voters

July 14, 1993|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Girding for the possibility that his bill to break up the Los Angeles school district could be rejected by a key Assembly committee today, state Sen. David A. Roberti said he may take the issue directly to voters.

The breakup drive suffered a setback Tuesday when the Los Angeles City Council refused to endorse Roberti's legislation, which would establish a commission to split up the 640,000-student system into units of no more than 100,000 students. The measure faces another tough test today when it is scheduled for consideration by the Assembly Education Committee.

Nonetheless, Roberti (D-Van Nuys) said he believes he would be successful in "going to the people directly" because there is a great amount of support for breaking up the nation's second-largest school district.

"We're not without resources, assuming the bill (goes) down. There's a groundswell of support for this legislation that isn't going to be forgotten," Roberti said during a Capitol hallway interview.

"He's more than welcome to do that," responded Los Angeles school board President Leticia Quezada, who was in the Capitol Tuesday to urge committee members to kill the Roberti measure.

"I think the tide is turning against the Roberti bill," she said, citing the City Council vote and opposition from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. She said the district has already begun taking constructive steps to improve education, including realigning school district management.

Quezada's efforts and lobbying by other opponents highlighted the intense struggle over Roberti's bill being waged in the Capitol over the future of the school district.

The measure, which has been approved by the Senate, would set up a citizen commission to develop a plan to split the district into at least seven smaller districts. Roberti also seeks to put the commission recommendation on the November, 1994, ballot.

As part of the behind-the-scenes negotiations on the bill, Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), chairwoman of the education panel, and others are seeking to stitch together a compromise proposal. For a compromise to be successful, the architects must hold onto the committee's five Republicans, who have supported the breakup, and bring along four Democrats so the measure gains a majority on the 17-member committee.

"Just breaking it (the district) up might be like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic" before it sank, Eastin said. Any breakup plan would have to ensure that inner-city schools receive the same resources as suburban schools, she said.

"You just can't leave these poor, dreadful downtown schools busted and broke. It's not ethical or legal," Eastin said.

She is seeking a middle ground to set up a commission that would recommend ways to improve the schools and possibly give final say to voters.

But Roberti cautioned that any compromise "has to be something with meat on it" and would have to be able to win a majority of votes in the entire Assembly in the face of strong opposition by Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

Roberti said that in addition to signing off on a compromise, his options include pressing the Assembly committee to approve his original bill. If that fails, he might seek reconsideration of the proposal, or go directly to the voters.

But Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), a member of the Education Committee, said there is already a provision in current law that allows the county Board of Education to put the issue on the ballot. Moore opposes a breakup but said she might agree to set up a commission as long as it could study other options.

Assemblyman Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount), another committee member whose district includes part of the school district, said he remains strongly opposed to a breakup and could think of no way Roberti's measure could be "amended or fixed" to make it acceptable to him. He said the district is beginning to change its management philosophy, so the breakup proposal is premature.

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