Dismantling the giant Los Angeles Unified School District could displace thousands of students, force many more into overcrowded classrooms and redistribute wealth mostly away from the better-off campuses, a Times computer analysis of school records shows.
Current proposals to form half a dozen or more smaller districts, if successful, would cause severe overcrowding in heavily minority areas from Hollywood to the southeast cities of Bell and Cudahy. The San Fernando Valley would be left with far fewer students and be hard pressed to retain senior teachers and fill classrooms with students, the analysis found.
The shift of as many as 37,000 students if all proposed breakup efforts go through also would jeopardize the highly regarded magnet program and wipe out decades of efforts to desegregate the 781 schools.
The beguilingly attractive notion of breaking up the district to enhance local control of schools has been gaining popularity. But this analysis, the first to examine the consequences of a breakup in depth, finds that the issue is complicated by the elaborate tapestry of student transfers within the nation's second-largest school system.
About 70,000 regular and 14,600 special education students, 12.7% of the district's enrollment of 667,000, now attend schools away from home--most riding the familiar yellow buses--seeking a better education or less crowded conditions.
Begun in the 1970s as a solution to segregation, those transfers have become the key to supplying additional students--and the money they bring with them--to underused schools in the San Fernando Valley and on the Westside.
If those traveling students return to their home areas, as anticipated under breakup proposals, dozens of schools would end up with empty classrooms and lose the state money that now pays for teachers and books. And the home schools would have to absorb the returning students on crowded campuses, worsening severe classroom shortages.
Taft High School in Woodland Hills, for example, would lose nearly a third of its students as well as about 27% of its $11.5-million annual budget. Belmont High School in one of Los Angeles' most densely populated neighborhoods near downtown would grow by 2,300 students, requiring an additional 80 teachers and 70 classrooms, even on a year-round schedule.
The heaviest financial toll would be exacted on middle-class neighborhoods where teacher salaries are high and special funds pay for desegregation programs, extra teachers and educating disabled children. L.A. Unified receives $333 million in integration funds that could be lost, disproportionately affecting magnet schools and centers.
The computer-assisted analysis by The Times used Los Angeles Unified data from the 1994-95 school year to project the impacts if seven smaller districts were created in place of one. Such districts have been proposed or are being devised by breakup advocates.
The analysis also found:
* The San Fernando Valley, the political cradle of the breakup movement, could lose more than 13,000 students if Valley schools became independent or if a new South-Central Los Angeles district was created. Given current average class size, about 910 classrooms would be surplus. The impact would be greatest in the West Valley, which could lose $91 million in state and federal funds, some of which could be made up by lower busing costs.
* A new district proposed for South-Central would have to make room for about 12,500 returning students, causing a shortage of 681 classrooms and 405 teachers. But it would have $61 million in additional state and federal funds generated by its returning students to apply to the problem.
* The area of six "hub" cities southeast of downtown Los Angeles would suffer severe overcrowding. The new district would be 553 classrooms short if all schools were on a normal schedule. Even if all its 38 schools went to year-round classes, the district would need 57 new classrooms.
* Due to the vagaries of school funding, the poorest districts would receive less federal anti-poverty funds and wealthier ones more.
State Looking at Breakup Plans
Two breakup plans now are awaiting action by the State Board of Education. One would separate three schools in the South Bay city of Lomita from Los Angeles Unified, and the other would create a new district out of 20 schools in nearby Carson.
A third proposal yet to reach the state board would withdraw more than 133 schools in South-Central Los Angeles. The state board has scheduled Los Angeles-area hearings in May to discuss breakup issues. Under state law, the board decides whether breakup proposals can be submitted to voters for approval.
San Fernando Valley activists who contend that local control would lead to improved education are expected to propose several new districts soon.