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Assembly Panel Stalls School District Breakup : Education: The committee rejects a measure to lower the number of voter signatures needed to move the proposal forward.

September 11, 1993|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — As lawmakers rushed to end their 1993 session late Friday, legislation to break up the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District was dealt a final setback, but a powerful supporter vowed to turn the cause into a statewide campaign issue next year.

Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), the influential Senate leader, cautioned candidates for local and statewide office that dismantling the nation's second largest school district is an issue of consequence that they will not be able to duck.

"I intend to keep the heat on until the district is broken up," said Roberti, a potential candidate for state treasurer.

Roberti issued his warning in an interview a few hours before the Assembly Education Committee turned aside a measure by Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) that would have dramatically lowered the number of signatures needed to petition the state Board of Education to consider whether to split up the 640,000-student district.

On a 5-9 vote, the committee initially rejected Boland's request to send the bill to the Assembly floor. Then the committee agreed by an 11-1 margin to shelve the proposal and set a hearing later this year in Los Angeles.

The committee had previously rejected two more sweeping measures by Boland and Roberti to set up a commission to devise a breakup plan and put it on the November, 1994, election ballot in Los Angeles.

On the final night of the session, the Democratic-controlled committee was in no mood to rehash the issue--even though Boland described it as a simple proposal to reduce by 60% the number of signatures of registered voters breakup backers would need to take the issue to a county committee on school reorganization and, if needed, the state Board of Education.

"There is a desperate need for genuine school improvement," acknowledged Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, who is considering whether to run next year for state superintendent of public instruction.

But Eastin said she does not believe school reform automatically means that the district must be carved into smaller units. Supporters say smaller districts would help parents become more involved in education decisions.

Boland blamed the committee defeat on the power of teachers unions, which are major contributors to campaigns, especially of Democratic lawmakers. A lobbyist for the California Teachers' Assn. dismissed the assertion, saying that a broad coalition of groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was opposed to the breakup.

Roberti said he was disappointed but not surprised by the committee action.

"Democracy and the Los Angeles Unified School District have yet to meet but we plan to make sure they keep the appointment," Roberti said through his spokesman.

Roberti, president pro tem of the Senate, has been pushing the issue since last year when he was elected to a seat in the San Fernando Valley. Because of voter-imposed term limits, Roberti is prohibited from seeking reelection next year.

Still, Roberti made it clear he plans to use the power of his leadership post to focus on the issue and force statewide candidates to take a position on the breakup.

"This is really a movement that I am trying to create that will outlast my being state senator and hopefully can still be accomplished while I am a state senator," he said.

He said the breakup proposal is an issue that goes beyond the city limits of Los Angeles.

"The waste of the Los Angeles district has radically adverse consequences for education throughout the state of California," Roberti said.

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