West Valley Seat Up for Grabs : Interest Surges in 2 School Board Races

Times Staff Writer

A few months ago, local political observers were predicting that the April 9 election for the two Valley seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education would be a yawner.

After all, the offices were held by two entrenched incumbents--Roberta Weintraub in the East Valley and Tom Bartman in the West Valley. Both had been popular figures in the Valley-based movement against the school district's mandatory reassignment program.

Besides, the once-emotional issue of desegregation was a thing of the past: A 1979 anti-busing amendment to the state Constitution and a U.S. Supreme Court decision had ended the possibility of any kind of mandatory reassignment of Los Angeles city school students.

Seemingly Minor Issues

The only issues left were, relatively speaking, small potatoes. And, the school board itself no longer looked like the political stepping stone it was once viewed to be. Hardly the stuff of premiere campaigns.

But Bartman changed all that Monday when he announced that he would not seek a second four-year term. Now the race for the West Valley's seat is wide open and the only one of three school board races without an incumbent.

The East Valley is different these days, too. The demographic makeup of that area's schools has changed dramatically since Weintraub was elected in the spring of 1979. It is now the Valley's most ethnically diverse region, and appears to clash with Weintraub's conservative politics. One candidate, a Latina, is already trying to gain the support of blacks, Latinos and Asians in her bid against Weintraub.

Finally, despite appearances, the issues aren't small potatoes. There is little likelihood that there will be any mandatory reassignment of students for desegregation purposes, but the controversy over the desegregation of Los Angeles schools may return to the courts in coming months, now that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given permission to the NAACP to reargue part of the case.

The resurrection of the busing case, combined with continuing school board discussions of possibly changing ethnic ratios and travel times for participants in voluntary desegregation programs, has made the desegregation issue prominent again.

Discuss Problems

Valley school board candidates, who must file "declarations of intent" between today and Monday, are beginning to discuss problems such as school closures, crowding, the quality of the teaching staff, how to teach non-English-speaking students, criticism of standardized tests and a new "baby boom."

In short, the Valley has become a microcosm of the Los Angeles School District. It can anticipate a campaign in which "local" issues will be similar to those being debated at the district level.

The line that divides the Valley's two school districts roughly follows Sepulveda Boulevard from north to south.

The West Valley district, District 4, is largely affluent, well-educated and predominantly white, and is the region where most of the school closures caused by dwindling enrollments have occurred. Some West Valley junior and senior high schools have also experienced "reconfiguration," the movement of sixth-graders to junior high and ninth-graders to senior high schools in order to prop sagging enrollments.

West Valley schools are now finding that a growing number of their resident students are limited-English speakers, with languages ranging from Spanish to Farsi. In addition, the empty classrooms of the past decade are beginning to fill with students who were once in private schools and with the late-in-arriving offspring of the baby boom generation.

With Bartman bowing out of the West Valley race, a plethora of candidates is likely to file for the seat. So far, the two names mentioned most often as candidates are Carrie Vacar, a former teacher, and David Armor, a policy analyst.

Vacar, a teacher in the Los Angeles system for 12 years, said she retired several years ago after being "bombarded" with paperwork and other activities that took her attention away from teaching and the classroom.

I became "angry about what was going on (in the school system) and at the low teacher morale. I resigned and at that point had no political experience. I left the school district with issues in mind. I'm doing this simply because I want to help improve education," said Vacar, a resident of Woodland Hills.

Vacar supports the concept of establishing a separate San Fernando Valley school district. She said she opposes more school closures "because there are schools that are overcrowded in other parts of the city. Of course, it's terrible to see a child travel more than half an hour to another school, but the only way we can keep our schools open is if those children can come into our schools."

Vacar is chairman of Valley Organization for Improved Childhood Education, a group recently organized to lend support to the fight to stop school closings.

Armor, a policy analyst who has specialized in education, has formed his own anti-closure group, Valley Parent Action Committee.

Armor, a resident of Tarzana, was the Republican Party's nominee in an unsuccessful race to unseat Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Tarzana) in 1982. The following year, President Reagan appointed him to a three-year term on the National Council on Educational Research.

Opposition to school closings and mandatory reassignment, and making sure that there are adequately trained staffs at schools with students of limited English abilities are some of the issues Armor plans to address during the campaign.

In the East Valley's District 6, the scene is quite different.

The Valley's 11 year-round schools are all in the East Valley. So are all of the Valley's predominantly minority schools.

"The school population is changing dramatically while the stationary population hasn't changed as much," Weintraub said. "The school population is basically minority now, and I think the issue is to make sure everybody gets a good education and watch very closely the transition of the schools. I expect more of the schools will probably go on year-round session. We are hitting exactly the same problems many of the Central City areas have had for a long period of time. You have to go with the times and change with them, and make sure that you are looking out for the community's needs, which I think I've done a very good job of."

Weintraub has raised $47,600 for her campaign, $19,400 of which she loaned herself. Two small fund-raisers last year yielded small contributions from Reagan Kitchen Cabinet members Holmes Tuttle and Henry Salvatori and entertainer Pat Boone. Still other gifts came from a political spectrum that ranged from the downtown law firm of O'Melveny & Myers, which is known for its support of Democratic and liberal causes, to "The Friends of Mike Antonovich," the fund-raising arm for the conservative Republican Los Angeles County supervisor.

During the election, Weintraub will probably stress her accomplishments in equal promotions and pay for female employees of the district, improving nutritional quality of school meals, and opposing mandatory reassignment of both teachers and students. She does not believe this anti-reassignment stance will hurt her in her now ethnically diverse district.

"The minority population of the district is basically Latino and I have never found the Latino population particularly in favor of mandatory reassignment," she said.

Weintraub said that most of the mandatory reassignment in the district today is needed because "the schools are overcrowded and you simply have to mandatorily reassign so they will have a place to sit and a classroom to sit in."

The two most-mentioned candidates against Weintraub are Mary Louise Longoria and Gary Lipton.

Longoria, an Arleta resident who is a consultant for the county Human Relations Commission, said that several East Valley and East Los Angeles community groups had encouraged her to run for the school board. A former teacher who is working on her doctorate in policy analysis at USC, Longoria says that crowded schools, a lack of quality education in the East Valley and what she views as an "incumbent who has not addressed the area's needs" are the major issues in the upcoming election.

"I am a serious candidate. This is not a fly-by-night decision. I've thought this out and I think, if anything, this campaign will bring about a good healthy discussion on issues concerning this district," Longoria said.

Longoria has met with a number of Valley organizations such as the local chapter of the NAACP, seeking endorsements and additions to the volunteer campaign workforce already in place.

Lipton, a counselor at John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, has been employed by the Los Angeles school system since 1954 and is chairman of the San Fernando Valley Nuclear Freeze Committee.

He says the issues he wants most to address are low teacher morale and the establishment of some kind of nuclear-age curriculum within the district.

"I have the feeling that no one on the school board is addressing the problem of low teacher morale. They are not looking at the poor communication between teachers and administrators," Lipton said.

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