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Brown Vows to Call in Votes Against Breakup : Education: Sen. Roberti's threat to attach a failed schools bill to existing legislation is labeled a 'hijacking' by Assembly Speaker.

August 14, 1993|HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown vowed Friday to marshal all the power of his Democratic majority to defeat a threatened attempt to revive legislation to dismantle the mammoth Los Angeles Unified School District.

Asked about a possible attempt by state Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) to attach his failed breakup bill to existing legislation--a tactic Brown called "hijacking"--the Speaker said he would muster the voting strength of his colleagues to keep the proposal off the Assembly floor.

Under the Legislature's procedure, 41 Assembly votes would be needed to bring the issue before the full Assembly under the parliamentary maneuver that Roberti is considering to revive the bill. Anything less than 41--a majority of the 80 Assembly members--would send the bill to a committee, making it easier for Brown to kill.

"I have 47 votes to manage the house and to avoid any hijacking wherever it happens," said Brown, a San Francisco Democrat, in an interview. "And I will employ that to send (the bill) to conference committee"--where, he predicted, a district breakup amendment would likely die.

So far, Brown and his allies have stymied efforts to divide the nation's second-largest school system. A bill by Roberti, which would have established a commission to put a breakup plan before voters, passed the Senate, but was killed last month in the Assembly Education Committee--partly because of what observers believe was Brown's influence.

But at a pro-breakup "parents summit" in Van Nuys last week, Roberti announced that he may try to amend education legislation already approved by the Assembly to include his rejected proposal. The entire bill would then move back from the Senate to the lower chamber, where Roberti has promised to use his political savvy to force it to a vote by the full chamber, bypassing the Education Committee.

"Notwithstanding what Willie has said, I am going to do any legitimate parliamentary move to get this very important bill before the Legislature," the longtime Senate leader said Friday.

Roberti will decide next week whether to go ahead with the amendment move, aides said.

Although Brown wields considerable power in the Assembly, proponents of a breakup hope that defection of key Democrats might tip the balance in their favor if Roberti attempts the amendment. Recently, Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) reversed his opposition to splitting up the district. Other Democratic Assembly members from the Los Angeles area, such as Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood) and Barbara Friedman (D-North Hollywood), have also expressed support for dismantling the giant district.

Brown's reiteration that he will do whatever he can to defeat the proposal came Friday afternoon at a gathering of school district administrators, teachers and parents on the Loyola Marymount University campus in Westchester. The participants were on hand to celebrate the end of a four-week training session for principals and teachers from the 35 schools that will be the first to implement the LEARN decentralization plan.

The plan, praised by backers as the best way to turn around the ailing school system, calls for individual schools to assume much of the decision-making power ordinarily concentrated in the hands of bureaucrats in the district's central office. In a congratulatory address, Brown told the group that their efforts made the attempts to break up the district obsolete.

"You're an incredible mind-blower for us in Sacramento. We're still fumbling with how to break you up," Brown said. "You've already broken yourself up."

He added that the LEARN reform effort will be closely scrutinized as a possible model for school systems across the country.

"You will be studied, you will be copied, you will be the prototype of the next generation of school districts all over this nation," he said.

Breakup proponents insist that the LEARN plan can be implemented just as well, if not better, in smaller districts. However, Mike Roos, a former Democratic assemblyman who heads the LEARN effort and is a close colleague of Brown's, opposes a breakup.

On another note, Brown said he would help try to resolve a funding dispute between the district and the Vaughn Street charter school in Pacoima if asked. But he cautioned that he does not know all the details of the dispute, including the legal points surrounding it.

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