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Backers of School District Breakup Move on 2 Fronts


SACRAMENTO — With the end of the legislative session only a week away, supporters of breaking up the mammoth Los Angeles Unified School District on Thursday moved vigorously on two separate fronts to press their case.

First, Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) won unanimous approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee of a bill that would make it considerably easier to petition the State Board of Education to split up the district and put the issue before voters.

Then, late in the day, an aide to Sen. David A. Roberti said the Van Nuys Democrat was poised to introduce amendments that called for a new approach to the controversial proposed dismantling of the nation's second largest school district.

Roberti's maneuvering came against the backdrop of hardball political infighting between the Senate leader and Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Rosemead), who opposes the breakup. In unusually harsh language, Roberti scolded the rookie lawmaker and said "she should wash her mouth out" after she jokingly alluded to him as "the Godfather."

The spat shows how seemingly unrelated issues can become entwined in legislation as lawmakers meet for long hours at the end of the session, fraying tempers and inflaming the language.

Indeed, Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, issued some of her most stinging criticism of Roberti's breakup campaign, all but closing the door on chances of passage this year.

Eastin, whose committee rejected a breakup bill in July, said she believes Roberti is seeking "to force the issue and I don't think the last week of session is a good time to be rewriting bills."

Saying the district is unmanageable, Roberti has made breaking up the 640,000-student district his highest priority. Eastin's committee, however, in July defeated the proposal to set up a commission to devise a plan to establish seven new districts with nearly 100,000 students apiece and put the plan before Los Angeles voters.

Ever since, breakup backers have sought to find a solution more acceptable to Eastin and other opponents.

On Thursday, Roberti's office released copies of amendments to be inserted into a bill by Assemblywoman Martinez.

The changes would incorporate some provisions of Boland's measure that would lower the number of signatures required to put the issue on the Los Angeles ballot from 400,000 to 160,000.

But most importantly, the petition-gathering procedure could be used only if the breakup plan called for splitting the district into not just seven but at least 13 new school systems with about 50,000 students apiece.

If approved by a majority of voters, the plan would be submitted to a panel of special masters selected by the State Board of Education based on recommendations of the state superintendent of public instruction and mirroring the state's population diversity. The reorganization plan would take effect upon final approval of the state board.

Eastin said she has not seen the revisions but voiced serious reservations about the concept.

"I keep saying the magic is in the management (of the district), not the size," she said, citing the enormous financial and academic problems that plague smaller districts such as Compton.

"He needs a plan for educational improvement and maybe it includes breakup," said Eastin, a potential candidate next year for state superintendent of public instruction. "This is not a comprehensive plan. This is one of those quick and dirty (politically) sexy kind of things."

In a stinging rebuke of breakup backers, she said "we oughn't to do it on the fly, swirling through town on our way to election central. This is not a quick fix kind of thing."

But late Thursday, Roberti was preparing to ask the Senate Rules Committee to gut a bill by Martinez and insert his language on the breakup.

A Martinez aide said that Roberti appeared to be completely rewriting the rookie lawmaker's bill, which would have barred the use of education funds for the purchase of alcoholic beverages. Roberti plans to strip out the provisions of Martinez's bill and replace them with his own--a process that usually takes place with the permission of the author.

The assemblywoman acknowledged that Roberti seemed to be revising a number of her bills.

The Roberti aide confirmed that there has been growing tension between the two lawmakers ever since Martinez questioned the senator about the breakup at the Assembly Education Committee hearing in July. She said she asked Roberti questions that were appropriate, "not insulting," but she acknowledged that she had apologized to the Senate president pro tem in the event he had misunderstood her intentions.

Roberti believed that was the end of the tiff until earlier this week when the Capitol Weekly, a Sacramento newspaper, published what Roberti took as a slur against his Italian ancestry.

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