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State School Board's Breakup Rules Assailed

Education: Speakers tell hearing that proposed guidelines would destroy efforts to dismantle L.A. system.

May 31, 1997|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — Politicians, parents and civic leaders lambasted the State Board of Education on Friday over proposed regulations for breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District, contending that the rules would destroy efforts to dismantle the sprawling school system.

The board opened two days of public hearings over new guidelines that would require breakup petitions to include an analysis of the effects on school desegregation, equitable distribution of district resources, the federal Voting Rights Act and other protections against discrimination.

Critics complained that the complex--and potentially costly--undertaking would unfairly fall on the shoulders of parents seeking more responsive schools.

"The residents of the San Fernando Valley know what they want for their children," parent and PTA activist Lisa Keating told the state panel. "Putting up roadblocks of red tape in our way is not reasonable, nor practical."

The hearing is to continue today at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College in downtown Los Angeles, although the board is not expected to make a decision on the proposed rules until at least the fall. Breakup proponents from the various secession drives across the district are expected to show up at today's hearing.

About 100 people attended Friday's hearing at Valley College--some angry about a process they say could further disenfranchise parents, prompting more to move out of the district or send their children to private schools.

Speaker after speaker also sought to broaden the hearing beyond the proposed regulations, in an effort to persuade the board that locally controlled schools would be more accountable than the district's giant bureaucracy. The state board is crucial to the breakup process because it must agree to place the issue before voters.

"These districts would be much smaller than the Los Angeles Unified School District and allow greater parental involvement, which I find throughout the country is the key to a successful educational environment," Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) told the panel.

McKeon also criticized the board, saying it "appears ready to subvert the will of the people by adopting regulations that will make it impossible for San Fernando Valley parents to pursue their hopes."

But a board spokesman said the proposed regulations--which have been sought by school district officials--are designed to help interpret the 1995 legislation sponsored by state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles).

Hayden's bill requires that any petition to break up the Los Angeles school system evaluate 10 conditions intended to protect the labor rights of district employees and preserve socioeconomic and racial diversity among students.

Hayden said through a spokeswoman that he deliberately crafted his legislation with general guidelines rather than "regulatory detail," so it would not interfere with breakup proposals.

"The law simply seeks to create reasonable parameters for a fair process leading to citizen initiatives on [school district] reorganizations," Hayden staffer Connie Brown told the panel.

But district officials, arguing that Hayden's legislation is too vague to accurately evaluate breakup proposals, have been lobbying the state board to adopt a strict set of regulations. Under the proposed regulations, breakup proponents--most of them parents volunteering their time--would have to either hire professional consultants to prepare acceptable studies and maps of their proposed new school systems, or perform the time-consuming job themselves.

"The definitions of the terms should not be like a mystery novel," school district attorney Michael Johnson told the panel Friday. "It is only fair to define these terms now."

The district's teachers union, meanwhile, has said the state regulations are a sound attempt to ensure that any breakup plan treats students across the district fairly.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Northridge), who is closely allied with Valley breakup advocates, has sought to bridge the two sides in the debate with a compromise set of regulations that would require far less analysis and place the burden of the work on the state rather than on secession leaders. A McClintock spokesman said the proposal more closely follows the spirit of the Hayden legislation.

The San Fernando Valley school secession group--known as Finally Restoring Excellence in Education--is one of five organizations seeking to carve up the school district. Groups from South-Central Los Angeles and the South Bay city of Lomita are among others who want to run their own schools.

Representatives from those two secession movements also addressed the panel.

Robert Hargrave, Lomita's mayor pro tem, said his city of 20,000 opposes any regulations that would slow the process. The Lomita group is the first to have filed its breakup petition with the state, and Hargrave said the breakup forces are frustrated with the delays.

"We are in opposition to any further rules or regulations so that we can have a hearing before" the board, he told the panel.

Former Assemblywoman Paula Boland, whose 1995 legislation made an LAUSD breakup politically feasible, echoed Hargrave's frustrations.

"If the process isn't simple, then it's no process at all," she told the panel. "I believe the purpose of these regulations is to . . . kill the entire [school breakup] movement."

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