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Parents Want to Ditch City's Schools

Some Ladera Heights residents want to leave Inglewood's district and join Culver City's. Both cities oppose plan.

January 03, 2006|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

But Inglewood officials say the number of transferring students could be much higher because many Ladera students currently attend private schools. Ladera leaders expect that very few of those students would switch to public schools. The Cooks, for example, say they plan to keep Gerald in private school, regardless of what happens.

Under state law, district reshuffling proposals must meet nine criteria, including findings that they would not negatively affect the fiscal status of the districts involved, would not significantly disrupt the educational programs and would not promote racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation.

In a detailed report to the county committee, the Inglewood district contends that the proposal meets only one of the nine criteria. They say, for example, the move would be harmful because it would remove the highest socioeconomic group of its students and create "a 'stigma' on the balance of" Inglewood students.

Such a move also probably would result in lower state achievement test scores at the two schools that would be most affected by the transfer: Frank D. Parent and La Tijera, both enrolling kindergarteners through eighth-graders.

The loss of Ladera Heights students "could create a situation where many of our most promising academically gifted students from upper middle-class families will leave the district, further separating students on the basis of socioeconomic and racial status," the report said.

Further, the transfer proposal ignores the significant gains Inglewood schools have made in recent years in the state's testing and accountability program, according to the report. The district's overall score on the 2004-05 Academic Performance Index was 679 out of a possible 1,000 -- a 32-point improvement from the previous year. Culver City posted an overall score of 763, approaching the state's 800 goal.

Ladera Heights leaders dismiss those arguments -- and the report's contention that their primary motivation is to raise their property values -- as irrelevant and false.

Ronni Cooper, a former Inglewood school board member and current president of the Ladera Heights Civic Assn., said she and her neighbors have tried for years to work with the district and have been opposed.

"All these parents wanted something better for their schools. They tried and they tried, and then they gave up," Cooper said. Now, families are looking to Culver City for "a viable public school option," she said.

Gerald Riberio, a mother of three who has been a volunteer and PTA leader at Parent Elementary for more than 16 years, said she has had "countless meetings with the various principals, superintendents and board members."

She sent her daughters to a private high school but remains vice president of the Parent PTA, even though she no longer has children there.

"My tax dollars are being used by [the district], so it is obvious that the right thing to do is to try to improve the school and the district," Riberio said. "But it's been very frustrating." Now she wants to help her community align with Culver City schools.

"Any good parent wants their children to have the best education possible," she said.

Ladera resident and Inglewood School Board Vice President Johnny J. Young, in a letter to his fellow residents, condemned the transfer proposal as motivated by property values and as "racism at its worst

"I, along with many others, want the best for all children, which is why I have donated my services as a change agent board member while continuing to be active in the [Inglewood district] over the past 32 years," said Young, who would be required to give up his board seat if the transfer went through.

Supporters of switching school districts point out that their property values already are higher than those in Culver City. They also note that Ladera Heights has many African American families, including the Cooks and some of the other strongest proponents of leaving the Inglewood district.

"It's unbelievable to me how they've tried to make it a racial thing," Cook said.

The county committee is scheduled to discuss a staff report on the proposal Jan. 18 and could decide then whether to accept it and call an election.

It could delay a decision if it determines that an environmental study should be done and if the state board makes an exception to its timeline rules for such transfers.

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