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County to Decide on School Secession : * Education: Petition to remove Lomita students from Los Angeles Unified gains enough signatures to force resolution of the issue.


The group working to see Lomita secede from the Los Angeles Unified School District and manage its own schools has submitted a petition to county officials with enough signatures to require the county to either reject or endorse the effort.

The Committee to Unify Lomita's Schools delivered a petition with 3,099 signatures to Los Angeles County officials last week. At least 2,400 signatures were required as a first step toward gaining educational autonomy for the city.

County officials have 20 days to verify the signatures and another 60 days to have a public hearing on the issue. After the hearing, the county has 120 days to determine whether it will advance Lomita's effort to the State Department of Education.

"The community is very anxious," said Cindy Grant, one of three chief organizers of the petition drive. "If we could have (our own) district tomorrow, we'd be delighted."

The group's main complaint is that Los Angeles Unified is too big and unwieldy to address the needs of Lomita, a community of 19,000.

"It's so big and we're a small, teeny-tiny part of it, that there's really no need for us to be there," Grant said. "If we have a problem, we want to be able to get it acted on immediately. We want our neighbors to be our school board members. Just like our City Council--I know all five of them--and if I have a problem, I can call anyone of them at any time."

The campaign marks the second time in eight years that Lomita has tried to secede from Los Angeles Unified. Its previous attempt reached the state level but died because state officials determined that by withdrawing its mostly white students, Lomita would undermine Los Angeles Unified's desegregation efforts.

The racial makeup of Lomita, however, has changed in the past few years from almost entirely white to about 60% white and 40% minority.

"But it's not just a minority issue," said Erin LaMonte, who helped spearhead the signature drive. "The whole environment is so different now."

Eagerness to leave Los Angeles Unified is almost palpable, said LaMonte, who walked Lomita neighborhoods for eight months collecting signatures.

"I'd say out of the hundreds of signatures I collected, I may have had to give reasons (for seceding) to maybe half a dozen people. It's ridiculous how automatic it was."

If the state board again denies the petition, the secession drive will stop there. If the proposal is approved, it will be put to a public referendum in a geographical area including Lomita and adjacent communities that might be affected by Lomita's withdrawal from Los Angeles Unified.

If the effort is successful, Lomita would create a new school district of about 2,000 students. The district would include Eshelman Avenue Elementary and Lomita Elementary, a magnet school. Fleming Middle School would become a combined junior and senior high school.

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