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Katz's Panorama City Office Picketed Over LAUSD Issue : Politics: Latino protesters criticize the assemblyman for not consulting their groups before supporting the school district breakup.


PANORAMA CITY — A small group of Latino activists picketed the office of Assemblyman Richard Katz on Friday to protest his support for the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Carrying placards that read "The Siesta is Over" and "Wake Up and Smell the Refried Beans," the eight protesters criticized Katz for not consulting Latino groups in his district before deciding to support the breakup plan.

In a telephone interview from Sacramento, Katz (D-Sylmar), once the San Fernando Valley's most influential opponent of the breakup, defended his recent change of mind, saying most of his constituents support splitting the massive school district.

"What I'm interested in is doing what is good for the kids," he said, adding that he does not, as a practice, seek approval from every group in his district before making a policy decision.

The protesters included Ed Guzman, chairman of the San Fernando Chapter of the League of United Latin Citizens; Jose Galvan, organizer for the San Fernando Valley Concilio of Hispanic Affairs, and Nereida Johnson, a member of Parents for Unity, a grass-roots organization opposed to the breakup.

They said the breakup effort leaves too many questions unanswered and they fear it could destroy the gains made by Latino in getting representation in the district.

Galvan, who has three boys enrolled in the district, said he fears a breakup would put his children in a smaller district that may not provide high-quality teachers and special education programs that are now available.

"Nothing has been outlined," he said. "All they tell us is that smaller is better."

With a breakup, Johnson said there may not be enough school funding to pay for all the new administrators needed to run the new, smaller districts and still pay for programs such as magnet schools.

The protesters also accused Katz of changing his position on the issue--as he did in August--to improve his chances of being elected to a higher office, a charge that the assemblyman vehemently denied.

"If I was going to do it for political expediency, wouldn't I do it in the middle of the mayor's race?" Katz said, referring to his failed June bid to be elected mayor of Los Angeles.

Katz said the efforts to split the 640,000-student district would leave intact special programs currently provided in the LAUSD and would not dilute minority representation on school boards.

The breakup effort has been spearheaded by state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who sponsored legislation to set up a commission to devise a plan to establish seven new districts with nearly 100,000 students apiece.

But the legislation was defeated in July, forcing breakup advocates to press for other alternatives, such as amending pending legislation to forge a compromise.

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