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If They Really Want to 'Save' Schools, Here's How

April 26, 2001|CAPRICE YOUNG | Caprice Young is a member of the LAUSD school board

During my nearly two years on the Los Angeles Unified School District board, few experiences have been as surreal as watching the City Council and mayoral candidates run for their offices on "save the schools" platforms when the offices they seek have no direct authority over public education.

Nevertheless, there are several areas over which the winning candidates will have influence that could help the students, because the City of Los Angeles already partners with the school district in many excellent and unheralded ways. These programs should be expanded and others like them should be started.

Here are some modest proposals, a shopping list really, that actually could help "save our schools."

* Increase school safety. Provide the LAPD with funding to increase collaboration with our school police. Patrol school areas more often, including at night and on weekends. Enforce loitering laws near school sites to keep suspicious older troublemakers away from younger teenagers. Expand programs that ensure our students' safety as they travel to and from schools. Reduce the number of guns in the hands of teenagers.

* Require LAPD officers who do come in contact with the schools to treat our kids as students, not potential criminals.

* Use Proposition K dollars and other bond money to locate libraries and parks adjacent to school sites and expand operating funds for joint use of those facilities. Allow land swaps that expand or enhance parks near school sites as part of the program to build more schools.

* Scour surplus properties for potential school sites--temporary and permanent. Councilman Alex Padilla has already done this, and the result will be a new high school (the former Anthony Office Building) opening in July 2002 in one of our most overcrowded neighborhoods. Although we have now identified 82 of the 85 new school sites for new schools, the current building program is still more than 100 schools short of the number needed to expand the school year to 180 days (from 163) for all students and relieve the extreme overcrowding in some parts of the LAUSD.

* Insist that L.A.'s Planning Department revise city growth plans to include identification of specific parcels for new schools wherever new density projections warrant it.

* Follow through on promises to expand after-school programs into every elementary and middle school.

* Expand funding for the Department of Cultural Affairs to bring art programs of all kinds into the schools.

* Stock the libraries with books, instructional software and materials that match and complement the LAUSD curriculum and California's educational standards.

* Enforce housing and zoning ordinances near schools.

* Expand highly successful academic partnerships like the firefighter training program, the zoo magnet school and the Police Academy for high school students.

* Increase street maintenance, street cleaning and utility lighting around schools.

* Work closely with us to advocate for funding for education in general and for new schools specifically.

* Ask the Department of Water and Power to reduce the cost of electricity for schools as we expand the use of instructional technology.

* Provide tax incentives to local businesses to participate in the adopt-a-school program.

* Include local school leaders in city Neighborhood Councils and hold their meetings in neighborhood schools.

* Double the fines for traffic violations in school zones.

By doing these things and others like them, our newly elected city leaders could make good on their word to make our schools better and thereby strengthen our communities.

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