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Hard Part Begins for Backers of School Split : Education: Proponents of an L.A. district breakup say they must resolve differences to reach their goal.

August 06, 1995|BETH SHUSTER and HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After winning a long-fought battle to give voters the power to more easily dismantle the city school district, a host of groups with longstanding differences now face the larger task of conquering the system without dividing into warring factions themselves.

Converting disenchantment with the Los Angeles Unified School District into voter support will require a plan that combines school reforms and educational philosophies with balanced racial and ethnic diversity, breakup advocates say.

And to do that, competing ethnic and political groups--including parents and other school activists--must first settle historic personal and political differences, say campaign supporters.

"There isn't room for personalities," said state Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills), author of legislation signed by Gov. Pete Wilson Wednesday easing the way for splitting up the district.

"The only thing there's room for is people who will get the work done. It has to be done right . . . and not for personal agendas and not for personal goals."

Boland said she hopes to continue to lead the effort as it moves from the state Capitol to communities in the San Fernando Valley, south Los Angeles and the South Bay. She called on supporters to steer clear of personal and political bickering.

But only days after Wilson signed the bill dramatically lowering the number of signatures required to get a breakup initiative before the voters, from about 386,000 signatures to roughly 72,000, several developments have revealed some of the emerging players and conflicts:

* Seeking to lead the campaign, the 31st District Parent Teacher Student Assn. asked about 50 people--including community members, as well as school district and union officials--to join a task force to draft a breakup plan.

* Although splitting the district has been opposed by its employees' unions, Connie Moreno, staff representative for the California School Employees Assn., which represents 4,600 school and office clerks, said, "We're beginning to think we should just throw in the towel and that it might be easier to deal with a smaller district."

* Mike Roos, head of the school district's 2-year-old LEARN reform program, said he has not ruled out the possibility that he would eventually join the breakup campaign.

"We proved if in fact you are able to galvanize will--and clearly there is will in the San Fernando Valley--then effective leaders will bring the differing, superficial conflicts into focus," he said. "I have a current obligation to LEARN--period. But whatever I do in the future is certainly open to what seems interesting at the time."

District officials have argued that the LEARN reforms provide more benefits to students than any breakup plan would do.

* The South Bay cities of Carson and Lomita are already well along in their campaigns to carve out school districts along municipal boundaries. Many residents there say they will not support a breakup of the Los Angeles district, of which the two cities are a part, unless they get their own districts.

* Members of Valley Advocates for Local Unified Education--a long-dormant San Fernando Valley group--resurfaced last week and began plans for citywide meetings. They may compete for leadership of the campaign with members of the PTSA, education activists say.

* Former school board member and U.S. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, who had sought to assist Boland with the breakup effort, agreed last week to stay out of the public debate. Critics said her participation would reopen political wounds from her leadership of a fight in the Valley against mandatory busing during the 1970s.

* Several Latino activists said they will develop their own plans for dividing the district, in part because they fear that a plan created by others would shortchange predominantly Latino communities.

"People are no longer saying, 'Will we break up?' " said Diana Dixon-Davis, a San Fernando Valley activist who has sought secession for a decade. "It's, 'When we break up, this is what we want.' This is going to be long and drawn out, but we don't have to convince people why. People all over the district are saying, 'We're fed up.' "

Some of the efforts, however, are viewed skeptically by some politicians and activists who said internal wrangling could give opponents plenty of opportunity to defeat a breakup effort.

"It's amateur hour," said one political observer.

So far, current and former school board members have refrained from supporting any of the emerging groups.

School board member Julie Korenstein, who supports a single San Fernando Valley school district, said she wants to see whether a single coalition emerges to draft a breakup plan before joining.

"I'm very selective," she said. "I will not be involved with anything that smacks of trying to segregate schools--that would be very offensive to me."

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