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SOUTHEAST AREA : School Activists May Push for Secession

March 06, 1994|MARY HELEN BERG

Education activists in the Southeast area, angered by a recommendation to create a "super cluster" of the three local high school complexes when the Los Angeles Unified School District reorganizes, say it may be time to secede from the district.

"There are those in the area that feel we should be our own school district," said Assemblywoman Martha M. Escutia (D-Huntington Park).

The Bell, Huntington Park and South Gate high school complexes, with a combined enrollment of about 55,000, would be the largest of 24 clusters under a plan recommended by a subcommittee of the Cluster Transition Task Force and sent last week to Superintendent Sid Thompson. The next-largest cluster, combining the Manual Arts and Jefferson high school complexes in Los Angeles, would have about 43,000 students.

The community clusters, which would regroup the district's 650 campuses into high schools and their feeder campuses, are the first step of a plan to restructure the district and decentralize decision-making.

Since it is unclear how the district's resources will be distributed to the clusters, some fear that the Southeast area, where at least 94% of high school students are Latino and 55% speak limited English, could be shortchanged.

"We better get more money than any other cluster," Escutia said. "If we don't get the money to justify serving 55,000 students, the whole movement to secede is going to take on a life of its own."

"I think we could handle it a lot better locally," said Willene Cooper, chairwoman of the Southeast Area Coalition on Overcrowding.

Joyce Peyton, director of the district office of school utilization, said that if resources are distributed on a per-pupil basis, the resources would be the same as they are now.

"If we really believe that the students are best served at their local school," she said, "does it really matter who the cluster leader is and how the clusters are grouped together?"

The Southeast cluster would be equivalent to the seventh-largest school district in the state if the recommendation is followed, said Lloyd Monserratt, a spokesman for school board member Vicki Castro.

Secession would not be easy, activists acknowledged. The Southeast area is the district's most overcrowded and would need to raise money for new buildings as well as compete with Los Angeles Unified for state funds.

Any effort to secede would need to begin with caution and a feasibility study, Escutia said.

Castro, Cooper and Escutia support an alternative plan proposed by the Latino Leadership Coalition for Education that would break Southeast schools into three clusters.

But not everyone is against the idea of a "super cluster." Huntington Park Principal Tony Garcia said many of his colleagues feel it is best to begin with a united Southeast cluster. "We stand a good chance of working together because we have worked together in the past," he said. If the "super cluster" failed, he said, the three high school complexes could become separate clusters later.

The superintendent is to send his recommendation on clusters to the school board in mid-April. The district hopes to implement the cluster proposal by July.

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