Los Angeles Unified School Board President Caprice Young, who is up for reelection next month for a seat that covers a lot of new territory, is advocating the division of the 748,000-student district into as many as 30 autonomous school systems that would provide more local control.
Young, who opposed a 2001 proposal to split off San Fernando Valley schools from L.A. Unified, contends she has supported the creation of much smaller school districts since joining the board in 1999.
But opponents say her proposal is a political tactic to sway constituents she gained in the San Fernando Valley under last year's remapping of the seven board seats.
Young's District 3 used to include East Hollywood and parts of the Valley. In the March 4 primary election, she will vie for votes entirely within the Valley, including Northridge, Chatsworth, West Hills, Studio City and Sherman Oaks.
Young said she advocates the creation of between 10 and 30 new districts because the current school system, the second largest in the country, is unwieldy and distant from parents.
"One size fits all just doesn't work," she said. "I believe we need to fix public education. My allegiance has to be first with students, even if that means putting myself out of the job."
Her opponent in the March 4 primary is Jon Lauritzen, a retired Canoga Park High School teacher who has twice run unsuccessfully for state Assembly.
He called Young's district breakup idea a "shameless campaign ploy" to divert attention from her record, which includes a vote to increase class sizes in upper grades as a response to reduced state revenues. Such a breakup, he said, would require a "bureaucratic study that will take years and cost taxpayers millions" before it could reach the ballot.
Lauritzen, who is endorsed by the teachers' union, proposes reducing class sizes by moving credentialed teachers out of district offices and putting them in classrooms.
Young said she did not raise the breakup issue publicly earlier because she did not want it overshadowed by the battles over the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession campaigns. Both those efforts failed in the November election.
"I didn't want to give the impression that the two issues were linked," she said.
Young said she did not support the 2001 proposal, which would have created two independent San Fernando districts with roughly 100,000 students each, because it would not have benefited the entire district.
A California Department of Education review of that proposal found that L.A. Unified could not function without funding from the Valley's taxpayers and could not do without some of the campuses and programs in the Valley.
Furthermore, removing 200,000 students from L.A. Unified would further segregate the city's schools, the study said. The state Board of Education then unanimously rejected the request to put the Valley districts proposal on the ballot.
Young said she would not begin seriously pursuing the plan until after the March 4 election. She concedes it would be a long process, starting with the formation of a citizens commission to study the idea. Petitions would have to be gathered, and the county and state would have to approve any plan before it could reach the ballot, which Young said she hopes could happen as early as 2005.
The last city to successfully break away from L.A. Unified was Torrance in 1948. A bid by Carson to leave the district failed in 2001.