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State Senate Eases Way for District Breakup Petitions


SACRAMENTO — The state Senate late Wednesday approved a bill designed to make it much easier to petition the state Board of Education to break up the huge Los Angeles Unified School District.

After a brief but lively debate, the measure by Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills) was sent to the Assembly on a 23-5 vote.

Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who has spearheaded the legislative drive to split up the district, said current rules hinder a democratic vote on the contentious education issue.

"The obstacles, the moats, the bridges that have to be crossed in order to change even the smallest aspect of school reorganization in our state are, as young people say, 'totally awesome,' " Roberti declared.

In contrast, Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) characterized the Boland bill as an "attempt to really narrow the democratic process rather than open it up."

Watson said she finds it "totally awesome that in order to expedite the breakup of the district" supporters are willing to reduce the number of signatures needed for the petition drive by 60%. Instead, she said supporters should want as many people as possible to sign off on such a radical proposal.

Boland's bill would lower the number of signatures of registered voters required to petition the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Reorganization from 400,000 to 160,000. Even if the committee, which includes educators, rejects dividing the 640,000-student district into smaller districts, backers could appeal to the state Board of Education.

After holding hearings, the board could turn down the proposal or develop a breakup plan and put it on the Los Angeles election ballot. Breakup supporters believe that the board, appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson and his predecessor, George Deukmejian, are sympathetic to their movement.

But those who favor dismantling the district face an uphill fight to get the issue to the state board.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, an opponent of the breakup plan, is expected to employ a parliamentary maneuver to steer Boland's bill to the Assembly Education Committee.

Earlier this week, the San Francisco Democrat said that measures such as Boland's that have not been reviewed by a policy committee in the lower house would be shipped to that committee.

However, the committee is unlikely to hold a hearing on the controversial proposal before the legislative session ends Friday night. Moreover, it would face long odds in the committee, which earlier this year twice rejected proposals to establish a committee to devise a scheme for carving up the nation's second-largest school district and put the question on the Los Angeles ballot.

Breakup supporters, including many San Fernando Valley groups, contend that the massive district is failing to educate children adequately, partly because parents and teachers have little opportunity to be heard by administrators and elected officials. A smaller district, they contend, would be more responsive to children's educational needs.

But opponents, led by Los Angeles teachers, say that district size does not dictate educational quality. They maintain that dismembering the district into smaller systems with as few as 50,000 students would heighten ethnic divisions throughout Los Angeles. And they fear that inner-city districts would not receive a fair share of state education funds.

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