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Ladera's Bid to Switch School Districts Denied

Transferring the area out of Inglewood campuses would hurt the district, a panel says.

January 19, 2006|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

A county education committee Wednesday turned down a controversial proposal to transfer the upscale, unincorporated community of Ladera Heights from the Inglewood Unified School District to the higher-performing Culver City Unified School District.

The disappointed proponents of the transfer, leaders of the Ladera Heights Civic Assn., said they would appeal the decision to the State Board of Education. The visibly relieved Inglewood superintendent offered an olive branch to those who wanted to leave.

In the discussion before the 8-2 vote to reject the proposal, several members of the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization expressed concern that allowing Ladera Heights to switch districts would undermine Inglewood's ability to pay off bonds and would make it harder to win voter approval of future bond measures.

The switch would not have involved shifting schools or other district property to Culver City, but it would have transferred Ladera Heights' considerable assessed property valuation, reducing the tax base in the Inglewood district.

The move also would have meant that Ladera residents no longer would help pay off Inglewood school bonds -- although they would have been required to chip in for those in the Culver City district.

Unless Inglewood got enough new homes or other development to make up the difference, Inglewood taxpayers would have had to shoulder more of the burden of paying off the bonds.

Several committee members nonetheless expressed sympathy for the Ladera Heights residents, who said they have tried for years to work with Inglewood to improve the schools before giving up and seeking a better situation for their children.

"I appreciate very much what the Ladera Heights people are trying to achieve," committee member Lloyd de Llamas said. But, he said, he could not vote for a transfer that would shift so much of the property tax base from one district to another.

"I hate to think that education has come down to just being about money," said committee member Frank Bostrom, one of the two "no" votes against rejecting the proposal.

People in Ladera Heights, a largely residential community of about 8,000 people, say they have long been unhappy with the Inglewood schools, citing low test scores and a rate of high turnover in district leadership.

Many send their children to private schools or get permits to let them attend campuses in other districts. According to school district records, fewer than 350 students from Ladera Heights attend Inglewood schools.

But the Inglewood district vigorously opposed the community's transfer, saying it would have undermined educational programs, hurt the district financially and deprived it of some of its best students and most involved parents. Some, including a school board member who lives in Ladera Heights, called the transfer proposal racist and an "attack on the African American male," although a majority of Ladera Heights residents are black.

Inglewood officials also cited the district's recent impressive gains on state tests and other improvements.

The Culver City school board opposed the transfer, citing mainly a lack of information about its potential effect.

Cheryl Cook, a leader of the Ladera proposal, said after the vote that her group would take its case to the state board.

Referring to several committee members' urging Ladera residents to work with Inglewood officials to improve the schools, Cook said: "They didn't listen to us. We've already tried that."

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