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BREAKING UP THE SCHOOLS : Sketching Scenarios for L.A.

August 05, 1993|Researched and written by HENRY CHU / Los Angeles Times

A bill that would have created a commission to study the proposed breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District has stalled in the Legislature, but proponents of splitting up the nation's second-largest school system are undeterred.

On Saturday a public forum will be held in the San Fernando Valley, the cradle of the break-up movement, to weigh public sentiment for other possible approaches for carving up the school district. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at Birmingham High School, 17000 Haynes Street in Van Nuys.

Proponents of the break-up say the district simply has become too complex to manage properly. Opponents say the break-up would increase segregation and do nothing to improve the quality of the schools.

In any event, the path to dividing in the district is filled with numerous political and logistical obstacles.

What's At Stake

Los Angeles school system at a glance:

Elementary schools: 419

Middle schools: 72

Senior high schools: 49

Full-time employees: 55,980

Regular K-12 teachers: 28,463

Square miles: 708.

Service area: City of Los Angeles, plus eight other cities and parts of 19 others.

Does not include magnet schools and centers, adult schools, special education centers, continuation schools.

Break-Up Strategies

Their break-up bill foundering in the Legislature, proponents of dividing the district are exploring other options, all of them complex. Some examples:

* A statewide initiative for June or November of next year, subject to vote by all registered voters in California. Gathering the 390,000 signatures necessary to qualify the measure would cost proponents an estimated $1 million.

* Retool the stalled break-up legislation to forge a compromise. Although dividing the district is endorsed by State Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), it is opposed by another powerful legislator, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

* A districtwide or citywide initiative--an option made difficult because current rules demand that the Los Angeles School Board, which has voted to oppose a breakup, first give approval. However, breakup backers can collect signatures from 25% of the district's 1.3 million registered voters and petition county and state education authorities directly to reorganize the district. If state Board of Education approves a plan, it still goes on a districtwide ballot.

* Modify existing laws to make the local initiative process less cumbersome.

Obstacles to Change

A number of issues must be addressed for any break-up plan to be defensible. A sampling:

* Racial integration: Dividing the district improperly could promote segregation in violation of law.

* Resources: Students, employees, assets and liabilities must be divided equitably.

* Special facilities: How to distribute specialized magnet schools and centers?

* Busing: Will students be bused across new district lines?

* Labor: How will unions respond to the creation of several new school boards?

So What's Left?

Although there have been many calls for dividing the district, it's unclear just what would replace it. Some proposals:

* A Valley district and a non-Valley district--the original intent of the Valley activists who spawned the breakup movement after school board reapportionment last year resulted in the loss of one of two all-Valley seats.

* At least seven independent districts. The stalled break-up legislation directed the commission to produce districts of no more than 100,000 students. With LAUSD's 641,000 students, that would mean at least seven districts.

* Thirty districts, each having one or two high schools and the lower schools that feed into the high schools. This is recommended in a study by the state Department of Education.

* Variations on these options or entirely new proposals.

Growing District, Growing Problems The school system's budget-and responsibilities-have grown in the last decade. It's one reason, say critics, to split into smaller units. At no time since 1959 has enrollment dipped below 500,000 students. The district's highest enrollment was logged in 1968-69, when a total of 656,101 students attended L.A. Unified schools. Enrollment 1972-73: 622, 633 1982-83: 550,127 1992-93: 641,206 Budget 1972-73: $941 million 1982-83: $1.85 billion 1992-93: $3.85 billion

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