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Los Angeles

Valley Mayoral Hopefuls Differ on District Split

September 21, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mayoral candidates on the San Fernando Valley secession ballot differed Friday over whether an independent Valley should immediately seek a breakup of the school district, or give the district more time to reform itself.

Mel Wilson, a Realtor running for Valley mayor, said at a Canoga Park news conference that one of his first priorities would be to change state law to make it easier for the Valley to carve its own district out of the school system.

The Los Angeles Unified School District "has repeatedly failed our children despite years of half-hearted attempts and numerous chances for real reform," Wilson said. "The school district just has too many flaws to it. It's too large and it's unmanageable."

In interviews, other candidates said they may support breaking up LAUSD under certain conditions, though several said Wilson's proposal is premature.

"Breaking it up would not be my first priority," candidate Bernie Bernal, a union activist, said. He said he would appoint a school czar to improve classroom instruction, and push to bring prayer to classrooms.

If such steps failed, Bernal added, he would support breaking up the district.

Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge), also running for Valley mayor, said his school reform plan includes the appointment of a mayoral liaison to the district. If the district did not improve within two years, Richman said, he would seek a breakup.

But Richman said it would be too much to try to split the district right after a new city is authorized.

"We will have our work cut out for us putting in place a new city government," Richman said of the months after the Nov. 5 secession vote. "It's not prudent to do both at the same time."

Candidate Jim Summers, a Realtor associate, said Friday he wants the region to have its own school district, but is uncertain how fast that could be accomplished.

David Hernandez, an insurance adjuster and candidate, said breaking up the district should be "an intermediate or long-term goal" of a Valley city.

The Valley and Hollywood cityhood bids have nothing to do with the school district. Secession supporters, however, say creating Valley and Hollywood cities would give those areas the clout to eventually leave the school district.

Last year the State Board of Education blocked an attempt to split the Valley off from the school district. The board denied a request by a group of Valley residents to set a districtwide election on a breakup. Such an election would be required even if Valley cityhood wins. The same is true for Hollywood.

Meanwhile, Gene La Pietra, leader of the Hollywood secession movement, said Friday he has spent about $1.4 million of his own money on the effort so far. He has repeatedly said he would spend "whatever it takes" to win Hollywood's independence.

Recent expenditures have paid for cable television and radio advertising, as well as mailers, he said. The campaign plans to send out 10 mailers between now and Oct. 2, La Pietra said.

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Times staff writer Nita Lelyveld contributed to this report.

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