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PTSA Group Backs Breakup Push for Schools

Education: Executive committee acts after poll of 7,900 members shows overwhelming support for separating Valley from LAUSD.

May 03, 1996|LUCILLE RENWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a significant boost to the movement to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District, the executive committee of the San Fernando Valley's Parent Teacher Student Assn. (PTSA) has unanimously voted to support the effort.

The committee voted Wednesday night after polls of 7,900 PTSA members showed more than 80% favored separating the Valley from the mammoth school system, the nation's second largest.

"We were a little surprised the unanimous vote came so quickly," said Bobbi Farrell, the head of a PTSA task force that has been studying the issue. Nearly 30 executive committee members reached their decision after only a few minutes of discussion, Farrell said.

For months, the Valley PTSA--which is known as the 31st District and claims 44,000 members--has carefully maintained a neutral stance on the proposed breakup, studying the potential effects of splitting off Valley schools but stopping short of making any recommendations.

The group's task force has began examining the idea since July. In March, it unveiled drafts of three breakup scenarios that looked at a Valley-wide school system, as well as even smaller ones within the area.

But Wednesday's vote marks the largest showing yet of community support behind the idea, which has been brewing for a decade with little concrete action beyond the meetings of a handful of activists. It also means the influential group will be lending its formidable organizing expertise to a movement that has yet to submit a written proposal.

"We knew a lot of people were dissatisfied with how the school district was currently operating, but we thought we'd hear a little more from people who were satisfied," Farrell said.

The task force informally polled members in August and again in March for their opinions on the breakup issue in mailed questionnaires. Most proponents questioned the LAUSD's accountability and said district officials were not responsive and lacked leadership. Farrell said several opponents of secession said they thought the LAUSD was ineffective, but didn't think splitting it up would make things better.

Results of the polls will be part of a final report the group will distribute in June, Farrell said.

For now, the PTSA will present its findings at community meetings throughout the Valley and will "start looking even more seriously at how we could effectively separate the Valley into one or more school districts," Cathy Flory, the 31st District president, said.

"Now comes the task to find out [in] which direction we should go," Flory said. She added that the group will present members with various scenarios, including proposals to split the Valley into either northern and southern districts, eastern and western districts or keep it as a single school system, which would make it the state's second largest.

Farrell said the PTSA also plans to work with other Valley proponents of a breakup.

Stephanie Carter, a breakup activist whose group has been looking into carving out a Valleywide district since summer, said she hopes the PTSA will join her group's plans.

"The only thing I've seen from them has been what they put out a few months ago," Carter said. "They haven't talked to us at all about what they've been doing."

Tony Alcala of the Northeast Valley Multi-Ethnic Coalition said he supports the general idea of a breakup but would have to see the PTSA's specific plans before joining its bandwagon.

"We have to be very careful to make sure that every community is fairly represented," Alcala said.

A spokesman for Supt. Sid Thompson said he was concerned that the rhetoric from breakup proponents was too vague and did not specifically address how such action could improve education.

"He's not diametrically opposed to a reconfiguration of the district if the proposal can identify that it will improve student education," spokesman Brad Sales said of Thompson. "Most of the proposals don't refer to that."

School Board President Mark Slavkin, who opposes a breakup, said the PTSA will "have a very tough time holding a coalition together over any specific plan."

"You start making enemies as you get specific," said Slavkin, who represents the West Valley. "You'll start stepping on toes, including some and excluding others."

Flory said the PTSA has no immediate intention to draw up concrete plans for a breakup. Nor does the group want to spearhead a breakup movement, she said.

"We just want to guarantee that all students receive the best education possible and we could only support a plan that guarantees that," she said.

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