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Board Member Softens Stance on Breakup : Education: South-Central's Barbara Boudreaux drops her opposition, reflecting sea change in attitudes as movement gains.

August 12, 1995|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a dramatic departure from the past, the school board member representing South-Central Los Angeles on Friday joined a new board majority now willing to examine plans to carve up the nation's second-largest district.

Barbara Boudreaux, who had staunchly opposed a breakup in the past, said Friday that she has changed her mind and will support the dismantling of the 708-square-mile district if it better serves the needs of students.

"You just can't continue to fight a change," Boudreaux said. "You just have to fight to make sure nobody's disenfranchised. I would support [a breakup plan] if there's equitable funding and resources for all our students."

Boudreaux made her comments the same day Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law a bill that imposes stiff requirements on newly created Los Angeles school districts, such as maintaining desegregation programs and union contracts.

The new law--authored by state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica)--along with a second breakup bill signed by Wilson last week, has breathed new life into the 27-year campaign to divide up the city school district, which now enrolls 640,000 students.

So far, only one school board member--Julie Korenstein, who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley--has expressed outright support for a separate school district. But in interviews Friday, a majority of board members say they are now willing to examine breakup proposals rather than oppose the idea out of hand.

Los Angeles Unified School District President Mark Slavkin said he will soon convene a meeting for the seven-member panel to develop standards to judge breakup plans. Growing support, he said, requires that board members examine the idea and explain its difficulties to constituents.

"The passage of these two bills has created an energy, with groups forming and discussions going on," Slavkin said. "The sooner the district can communicate its political concerns, the better."

The board members' comments Friday come on the heels of a new campaign of cooperation announced by city schools Supt. Sid Thompson. He promised to provide assistance to groups drawing up plans for smaller districts.

Breakup supporters are hailing the changes, which offer a striking contrast to attitudes of years past.

"I think it's wonderful," said Bobbi Farrell, legislative adviser to the 31st District Parent Teacher Student Assn. "It's a real turnaround for them. No one knows what the outcome will be, but we see the frustration out there and the board sees the same frustration."

Farrell and others say they are surprised--and pleased--that the board majority is willing to examine plans for smaller school systems.

Stephanie Carter, a Tarzana parent who has been active in the breakup movement for five years, said the board's position represents a dramatic shift and paves the way for citywide debate on the issue. Supporters must collect the signatures of 8% of voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election to qualify a breakup measure for the ballot.

"It's totally the opposite from years past," Carter said. "Absolutely, it will help us."

Sandy Brown, Hayden's deputy chief of staff, said the passage of breakup legislation has dramatically changed the long-running debate.

"I think the reality is the bills are here--they're signed and ready to go," Brown said. "It's easy to complain and oppose it before it's approved. But now that it's passed, everybody's starting to jump on board."

Most board members, however, say they remain neutral, even though a breakup would eliminate their seats. Some cautioned supporters, saying the creation of smaller districts will be complicated and is no sure cure to the district's many ills, including its nearly 44% dropout rate.

"There's no miracle plan out there," said board member Victoria Castro, one of three trustees who oppose a breakup. "I really believe that if you start looking at it, you'll see that L.A. really does a good job."

Nonetheless, Castro said she would review any plans that come forward.

"I do not support the breakup, but maybe we can find improvement," she said. "I'm not willing to say we shouldn't look and be supportive."

Korenstein, who supports the creation of a single San Fernando Valley school district, said the school board can examine plans but the district has lost its power to stop the campaign. She met Friday with representatives of the PTSA, which wants to play a key role in the breakup movement.

"You can analyze and critique it, but you can't say, 'We won't allow this,' " Korenstein said. "The school district no longer plays that role."

Board member Jeff Horton, who along with South Bay-Harbor board member George Kiriyama also opposes a split, said the district should focus on improving its own reform programs.

"We have a district to govern and a whole set of reforms that we have started and that we need to pursue," Horton said. "My feeling is . . . the people involved in this will find it so daunting that anyone who is really concerned about education will find some other way to improve education."

But Boudreaux, who held a parent meeting Friday on the breakup campaign, said the board should give community members the chance to develop plans before passing judgment on them.

"My philosophy is that an informed community is an educated community," Boudreaux said. "They'll be able to make sound decisions."

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