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Movement to Split Apart L.A. School District Wanes

Education: Lack of organized support and focus on Valley secession have pushed the issue to the back burner.

August 25, 1996|LUCILLE RENWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The passion driving efforts to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District--not long ago the Valley's hot-button issue--has dwindled significantly in recent months, thanks to disorganized local groups, disinterest among once fervent proponents and the ruckus over Valley secession.

With Assemblywoman Paula Boland--the breakup's main champion in the Legislature--focusing her attention on a now-defeated bill to allow the San Fernando Valley to divorce itself from the city of Los Angeles, efforts to dismantle the nation's second-largest school district have barely moved forward since May.

"It's definitely slowed down," said Northridge resident Jill Reiss, co-chair of a now-defunct group once involved with the breakup effort. "You're hardly hearing anything about breaking up the school district anymore."

Critics of the breakup say the lull could be a sign that the movement in the Valley is slowly dying.

But proponents contend that it is dormant but still alive.

Boland (R-Granada Hills), who is running for a state Senate seat based in Glendale, said in an interview that she plans to turn again to the breakup effort at the end of the legislative session this year.

"I am deeply committed to the children of Los Angeles Unified School District and I will not let the state Senate race detract from my efforts," she said.

Still, things are so slow now it's hard to believe that just last summer the movement, buoyed by support from Sacramento, was in full bloom.

At this time last year, Gov. Pete Wilson had just signed two bills, one sponsored by Boland and one by Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), making it easier to dismantle the 650,000-student school system.

Rhetoric Fades

But the string of breakup efforts and rhetoric that erupted when the bills passed has since faded.

Groups such as Reiss' Valley Advocates for Local Unified Education (VALUE), surfaced last summer, only to fizzle out months later. Latino activists vowing to develop their own breakup plans quickly retired those thoughts; some joined other breakup efforts.

And Mayor Richard Riordan, who promised to take more of a leadership role in the battle to splinter the behemoth district, has since backed out of the issue.

Even the San Fernando Valley Parent-Teacher-Student Assn., which led the breakup movement last year by launching its own campaign, has become less active.

Since the group unveiled three scenarios for carving up the district in March, the PTA has been largely silent, agreed Bobbi Farrell, who headed the volunteer task force that prepared the proposal last spring.

But, she said, members have been working to put together a half-hour cable TV show about the PTA's plan.

Robert L. Scott of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., known as VICA, said he thinks the battle in Sacramento over Boland's secession bill has tossed the school breakup issue onto the back burner, and myriad plans by separate factions have scattered advocates' interests.

"There are several grand plans being assembled and I'm waiting to see which one will rise to the top," said Scott, who has also been less active in the movement recently. "I've been tracking things."

Stephanie Carter, co-chair of the L.A. Breakup Campaign, blamed the movement's doldrums on summer vacation.

"The people who are really working on this right now are the ones who also have children in school, and when school is out, their attention and time turns toward their kids," said Carter, who lives in Tarzana. Carter's group has been holding community meetings since March and has been working sporadically on a breakup plan. The group took a hiatus for part of the summer, but Carter and her partner, Diana Dixon-Davis of Chatsworth, have been working to compile statistics and maps of new school districts.

The two women vowed that the opening of all schools in September would reinvigorate the sluggish effort.

But United Chambers of Commerce President Gerald Curry said the breakup effort needs someone with Boland's political clout to get things moving.

"I think they're well-intentioned people," he said of Carter and Dixon-Davis. "But as a practical matter, you have to find some financing for this and they don't have the backing to pull that off."

Curry predicted that the secession bill's failure might bring Boland back to the school breakup issue. "We'll need someone with her backing to really get things off the ground," he said.

Looking to Boland

Boland has championed dismantling the district for years, first by writing the bill that Wilson signed last year and then by promising--along with Riordan--to craft a districtwide breakup plan. But no plan has materialized, and some people now believe Boland's bid for a state Senate seat may distance her from the school breakup issue.

Tony Alcala, an East Valley resident and active parent in district issues, said he is skeptical of Boland's motives.

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