Face Lift at School Comes Too Late to Halt Cutback

Times Staff Writer

Bowing to pressure from Canoga Park parents, the Los Angeles school district has begun a $15,000 face lift at an all-steel elementary school built 26 years ago to be “maintenance free.”

But the repainting of shoddy-looking sheet-metal classrooms at Justice Street Elementary School has come too late to halt sliding enrollment as parents had hoped.

The school has come up six students short of the minimum attendance necessary to keep all eight of its teachers this year, according to school officials. As a result, one instructor will be transferred and fourth- and fifth-graders will be reshuffled into new classes.

“It’s very frustrating. We came so close,” said Lynne Mazur, president of a parents’ group that lobbied to get the school spruced up in hopes of attracting new pupils. “Knowing we’re just six children away is a killer.”


Threats of Closure

Increased attendance at the school is viewed by officials and parents as the key to breathing new life into the neighborhood campus, which has been threatened twice in recent years with closure. School funding for supplies and programs is allocated on the basis of enrollment and a larger teaching staff allows for increased campus activities, officials say.

The Justice Street school had an enrollment of 1,100 before an ill-fated, three-year Los Angeles integration program was begun in 1978. The mandatory busing effort sent thousands of West Valley families searching for private schools. By last semester, Justice Street enrollment had plummeted to 235.

Last week, only 195 youngsters showed up when the new academic year began. On Thursday, Principal Herbert Anderson sat inside his freshly painted office and began the paper work that the teacher transfer will require.

“Six doesn’t sound like a lot of students. But for us, it’s insurmountable,” Anderson said. “We needed 75 fourth- and fifth-graders and we’ve got 69. It’s close in the primary grades, too. We have to have at least 125 children in kindergarten through the third grade to keep our five primary teachers. We have 126 kids, so we’re OK for now.”

Improvement Noted

Anderson said the school, which is rusted in some spots, began looking better the minute a four-man district maintenance crew began scraping away shards of flaking paint that has peeled from the school’s steel exterior. But he said he has no way of knowing how many students were lost to other schools because of the abandoned-factory look Justice Street had until last week.

The refurbishing is taking longer than expected because of the extensive paint removal required before the sheet metal can be repainted, school district workers said Thursday.


“All of the scraping is discouraging because we don’t know how long the new enamel will last,” said painter Eric Steinberg. “It could last five or 10 years, or only one year. I’m sure steel schools have their good points, but whoever designed it sure didn’t talk to a painter first.”

The school is the only one built totally of steel in the Los Angeles district. Besides its outside deterioration, the school’s rooms retain much more heat during hot weather than do traditional buildings, according to teachers and students.

Mazur said her group, called Parents for Justice, has launched a student recruiting drive tied to a newly established after-school campus day-care program and special enrichment activities financed by parents. Dozens of recruitment posters were placed on neighborhood telephone poles Thursday.

“We want to open a computer lab, start a little school newspaper and paint a big mural at the school after the painters finish. We’re going to do what we can to make this school look good,” Mazur promised.