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Minorities Could Lose Out in Secession

City government: Things could get worse for African Americans and Latinos if the Valley secedes from Los Angeles.

April 06, 1999|EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON | Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press, 1998). E-mail: ehutchi344@aol.com

While polls show that a majority of Valley voters say they want to break away from Los Angeles, many Latinos and most African Americans don't think it's such a hot idea. It's not hard to figure out why.

L.A. is already a nonwhite majority city, but in the Valley, whites are still in the majority. Despite all the talk of the mostly white Valley secessionist backers about wanting smaller government and better schools, services and government, the suspicion is that their real agenda is to maintain white control in their own city.

This would badly shortcut the growing effort of minorities, especially Latinos, to increase their political clout on the City Council, the county Board of Supervisors, the school board and the community college board.

L.A.'s instant fall from the rank of the nation's second largest city, with the power, prestige and influence that come with that, would reduce the immediate prospects of Latinos and African Americans of becoming regional political players. A Valley city wouldn't do much for their political fortunes either. Although Latinos make up about one-third of Valley residents, and are the fastest-growing segment of the Valley's population, they and African Americans, who have been glaringly ignored by Valley secessionists would be at the mercy of the political whims of the white majority.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 7, 1999 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 7 Op Ed Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
School chief-- In a commentary Tuesday by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ruben Zacarias was identified as the first Latino superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District. He is the second; Bill Anton was first.

The other big reason to suspect the motives of white Valley secessionists is their record on the schools. It was white Valley parent groups who battled the school district to a standstill during the 1970s to keep Valley schools white. While busing and school integration are no longer flash point issues, how and who should run L.A. city schools still are.

The school district in which 69.1% of the students are Latino and 13.6% are African American presents problems and possibilities. The problems can be summed up in one word: abominable. By nearly every standard, student test scores and achievement levels drag near the bottom of the barrel compared to other school districts nationally.

Gov. Gray Davis, the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Reuben Zacarias, the district's first Latino school superintendent, all have promised to turn public schools in Los Angeles around. That must mean massive funding, more and better-quality programs, the implementation of performance standards for teachers and administrators, and, most important, more decision-making on teacher hires, texts and curriculum by local parent-teacher advisory groups.

Valley secession could wreck these efforts by draining much-needed tax dollars, by increasing the stampede of skilled and experienced teachers and administrators from the district and by driving even more white students from the city's schools.

There is also the puzzling plan by the group, Finally Restoring Excellence in Education, which has piggybacked on the Valley secession movement. The group says it not only wants to break Valley schools away from the Los Angeles Unified School District but also split a proposed Valley school district into a northern and southern district. This could do even more damage to minority hopes for better schools if it results in a two-tiered school system in which more resources and better teachers and programs go to affluent, mostly white schools, while the schools filled with poorer, mostly Latino and African Americans students get the leftovers.

Valley secessionists say that these fears of Latinos and African Americans are groundless. But the few attempts they've made to assure them that they will be major beneficiaries of better and smaller schools as promised and that they will be politically well-represented in city and administrative posts have been weak and half-hearted. If Valley secessionists hope to see their dream of a separate city come true, they will have to do a much better job than they have done to convince Latinos and blacks that this dream will not be a nightmare for them.

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