Flanked by Mayor Richard Riordan and San Fernando Valley political heavy-hitters who favor splitting up the Los Angeles Unified School District, state Sen. David A. Roberti revealed a new tactic Saturday for advancing a bill through the state Legislature to dismantle the giant district.
Speaking at a "parents summit" on the breakup at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Roberti (D-Van Nuys) said that if his bill, which would create a commission to develop a breakup plan, remains stuck in the education committee of the Assembly for much longer, he will attempt to force it to the floor by attaching it to another bill.
Breakup supporters have been unable to muster enough votes on the Assembly Education Committee to move the bill--which already has passed the Senate--to the floor of the lower house. If the Assembly passes an education-related bill of its own and sends it to the Senate for consideration, Roberti said, he will amend the measure with his breakup bill and send it back to the Assembly floor.
The Valley has been the hotbed of the breakup movement. On Saturday, 10 Valley lawmakers--all wearing blue "Breakup LAUSD" T-shirts--appeared on a panel at the event. Others included Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) and City Council members Joel Wachs, Laura Chick and Hal Bernson.
Valley Assemblywomen Cathie Wright, Paula Boland and Barbara Friedman also attended, as did former school board member Roberta Weintraub. Carson Mayor Mike Mitoma, who said that his city wanted to secede from the Los Angeles school district, took part, and even San Francisco independent state Sen. Quentin L. Kopp took a seat on the dais to show support.
Roberti said he was confident his parliamentary tactic could put his breakup proposal before the full Assembly. Once there, however, it faces the opposition of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
The idea behind Saturday's summit was to bring parents and politicians together to discuss ways to split up the district in the event that Roberti's bill fails.
"We are all here for a very simple reason--because we love our children," Riordan told the crowd. "And the children of Los Angeles are getting a raw deal."
Riordan disputed arguments that splitting up the district would harm children from poor areas or children who have special educational requirements, such as bilingual education. Smaller districts with more Spanish-speaking children consistently teach youngsters better than Los Angeles Unified does, he said.
Riordan also insisted that the much-vaunted LEARN reform program would work as well in small districts as in the current sprawling district, the nation's second-largest.
Outside, 32 adults who oppose dismantling the district, accompanied by about 20 children, marched in a circle around a grassy area in front of the school's auditorium, holding signs reading "Breakup = Bigotry" and "Break Roberti, Not the District." They shook plastic bottles filled with pebbles, and shouted slogans at Roberti as he entered the building.
"This is a political summit, not a parents summit," complained Ed Guzman of the San Fernando Chapter of the League of United Latin Citizens.
The protesters also criticized Roberti for spending nearly $90,000 in state funds to organize and promote Saturday's meeting. "That's enough money to pay for three teachers," Guzman said.
"Mr. Roberti is always saying that Valley parents support this, but I am a Valley parent, and I do not support this," Flora Cole of Van Nuys said. "How will this improve education for our children? Will it bring schoolbooks? Music teachers?"
Roberti said in an interview that the breakup plan was not racially motivated.
"On the question of racism, that's just not the case," he said. "L.A. is so diverse that we couldn't create a district in the San Fernando Valley that was not diverse."
Once the summit began, the protesters came inside to participate, bringing the total attendance to about 340.
The politicians took turns outlining tactics for splitting up the district. A sampling:
* Reorganize the district by making use of existing state laws. Current law would require the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Reorganization, affiliated with the County Office of Education, to consider a plan to break up the district if supporters could gather 160,000 petition signatures. But the law does not require the committee to act on the plan by advancing it to the state Board of Education, which has the power to change the district's structure.
* Change current law to send the petition directly to the state board and remove a requirement that the Los Angeles Board of Education approve any changes.
* Put an initiative to break up the district on the state ballot in November, 1994. This would require gathering more than 300,000 signatures and gaining the support of voters throughout the state. A number of the participants, including Wachs and Chick, said they were leaning toward supporting this option.