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L.A. Schools Chief Says He Won't Fight Breakup Effort


In an abrupt shift toward conciliation after years of opposition, Los Angeles city schools chief Sid Thompson on Wednesday told critics of the school system that he will not launch a fight against the campaign to dismantle the district.

Instead, Thompson pledged to help breakup supporters, if they can show that their plans to carve up the nation's second-largest school system would result in improved student achievement.

"I am not opposed philosophically to a different order for this school system. I simply ask that it be done for the right reason," Thompson said in his first public appearance since Gov. Pete Wilson signed legislation last week easing the way for voters to approve a breakup. "The only way I'll fight something is if I see that it's directly against the young people."

Against a new political backdrop that has given a boost to the decades-long breakup campaign, Thompson promised that his staff will supply the information needed by breakup proponents to craft a plan, which must by law preserve racial integration and promote financial equity among the replacement districts.

Thompson's speech before the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley--a supporter of the breakup movement--apparently reflects a new let-them-come strategy that the Los Angeles Unified School District has adopted to deal with the campaign to split it up.

Although the school board voted earlier to oppose the measure signed by Wilson--which makes it easier to divide the district--school board President Mark Slavkin said the board does not plan to file a lawsuit to block the legislation.

Some observers say the new strategy is an attempt to use the breakup drive's energy against itself, in hopes the movement will collapse under the weight of information demonstrating the difficulties of fairly dividing the 640,000-student system.

"I think you should be starting with specific things that L.A. Unified doesn't do for kids . . . then present a plan that shows how it can be done better," Thompson said.

Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this story.

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