Parents to Protest Busing Plan Cure for School Crowding

Times Staff Writer

Angered by a Los Angeles Unified School District decision to change integration standards at underused schools, some parents here say they are determined not to let the issue rest.

"People feel they've been railroaded," said Joeann Valle, president of the Harbor City Coordinating Council, who said that her group will meet Wednesday to discuss ways to protest the new plan. "The community is going to let the board know that it's not going to stand still for this. We're going to let them know we're unhappy."

The district's new plan, approved by the school board Dec. 17 to take effect in September, will alter racial and ethnic guidelines--for the first time since the district's court-ordered desegregation plans were approved in 1981--in order to permit more busing of minority children from overcrowded inner-city schools. Without the plan, overflow students would be bused longer distances, mostly to San Fernando Valley schools.

The change is now limited to affect four Los Angeles area schools, all of which are within an estimated 30-minute bus ride of an overcrowded campus. The schools are President Avenue in Harbor City, Cowan Avenue in Westchester and Charnock Road and Mar Vista in West Los Angeles.

Legal Opinion

The district's legal counsel is examining whether the plan could also be applied to other schools. That opinion, requested by Board Member Rita Walters, is expected at the board's Jan. 21 meeting.

The four currently affected schools have vacant seats but, under the district's old rules, could not receive more students from overcrowded campuses because their minority enrollments had reached near 60%--the limit for classification as an "integrated" school. The new guidelines will permit the four schools to qualify as integrated with minority enrollments of up to 70% "Minority" includes blacks, Latinos and Asians.

While Harbor City parents say that they empathize with students at overcrowded schools, many contend that the district's new plan will only reduce the quality of education for both the incoming and community students.

"The board is just shuffling students from one school to another," said Harbor City parent Susan McMurray. "The board is just looking at desperation solutions. (Board members) are using the space they have available and they don't care what it costs in terms of student education or teacher morale. They haven't made adequate plans for the students in the community or those that are being bused."

Many Surprised

The new plan came as a surprise to many Harbor City parents, who said they had believed earlier protests of a similar proposal had persuaded board members to shelve any such plan.

The previous proposal, called the "75-25 Policy," was voted down at the same Dec. 17 meeting, after almost six months of protest from Westside and Harbor area parents. The substitute plan was proposed by school board President John Greenwood, who also serves as representative for the Harbor area.

"Mr. Greenwood told us that he opposed the 75-25 plan," said Harbor City parent Betty Nelson, a former teacher and a school volunteer for six years. "I thought, 'Good, he's heard our concerns and the board is going to respond.' And then (Greenwood) came up with this plan. I'm very irritated about the whole thing. Mr. Greenwood is quite a politician. He says what he wants us to hear."

Greenwood maintained last week that his plan, which would be accompanied by resources totaling about $60,000 for the first year at each of the schools, would relieve overcrowding without adversely affecting local schools.

He also said that the new plan is more practical because it would eliminate the need for public hearings and the possibility of a court battle. Hearings would be necessary if the district chose to alter guidelines below the court-ordered 30% white for integrated schools. Also, some speculated that a legal challenge might result from such a move.

"The district has analyzed the situations at these four schools," Greenwood said. "In these four schools, we can stretch our integration definitions without really changing them. Our new plan creates more than 400 spaces for youngsters from overcrowded schools and does it in a way that is responsible to the youngsters in the resident community."

Many Harbor City parents, however, take issue both with the plan's provisions for the resident community and the school board's sense of public responsibility.

Parents said they would have supported the district's plan if they had been guaranteed adequate resources to handle a probable influx of students with limited abilities to speak English.

The resource package that the board approved for the new program includes funding for a program administrator for one semester, two days of staff development for teachers, five extra workdays for the school principal, four informational meetings for parents and the opportunity for teachers to enroll in language classes.

In addition, according to Gordon Wohlers, adviser to the School Utilization Task Force, the district's current program for students bused from overcrowded schools includes funding for the receiver school of $50 a pupil and $381 for each student with limited ability to speak English. School buses also are staffed with two "integration helpers."

Among parents' additional requests were reduced classroom sizes, a two-semester program administrator, a full-time bilingual aide, language or reading laboratory facilities and funds for additional medical, psychological and clerical services. According to October, 1984, school district statistics, Harbor City's President Avenue School has 176 open seats, some of which will not be filled to leave room for growth.

"I'm very disappointed that what we envisioned as an adequate resource package is not coming to pass," said McMurray, a school volunteer and PTA activist who worked with other Harbor City parents to devise the resource requests. "The ones I feel sorriest for are the kids. Their needs are not going to be met."

Said parent Leonard Scheese, "If they would have worked out a way to handle the bilingual situation, it might have worked. I have nothing against finding a place for these kids, but sprinkling a few students who don't speak English in a mostly English-speaking class is not the solution."

Scheese, like many Harbor City residents, also expressed dismay that the school board did not hold a hearing to address parents' concerns.

"I don't see how the board can get by without a public hearing," he said. "The inputs from the people are playing no part in their decision. They just slipped one by the people. It seems that at all costs they wanted to avoid a hearing."

Said Valle, "They are supposed to represent their constituents. They're our elected officials. I'm very disappointed that they would not want a public hearing."

Greenwood said public hearings would not be practical.

"Hearings could be self-defeating," he said, explaining that the hearings process might have led to an emotional outpouring, which, in turn, might have led to parents removing their children from schools. If a "white flight" followed public hearings, he said, school capacities for receiving minority students would be reduced.

Ethnic Breakdown in Schools

Four schools are affected by a decision of the Los Angeles Unified School District to alter racial and ethnic guidelines in order to permit more busing of minority children from overcrowded inner-city schools. The new guidelines will permit the four schools to qualify as integrated with minority enrollments of up to 70%. The table shows they are below that figure and that they are not up to capacity.

School Capacity Enrollment % White % Minority President Ave. 794 618 43 57 (Harbor City) Cowan Ave. 427 326 43.3 56.7 (Westchester) Charnock Rd. 599 350 43.1 56.9 (West L. A.) Mar Vista 638 352 46 54 (West L. A.)

NOTE: Figures were provided by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Enrollment and ethnic statistics are based on a district survey taken in October, 1984.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°