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Alternatives to Year-Round Schools Crowd Board Agenda

Times Staff Writer

The answer seemed so easy when Los Angeles school board member David Armor recently asked about 200 San Fernando Valley parents if they would rather see the district increase class sizes by two students each or place the entire system on a year-round calendar.

Nearly all the parents said they would rather see larger class sizes. But last week, when researchers for the Los Angeles Unified School District responded to the same question, the solution to crowded conditions became less certain.

Enlarging class sizes by two students next fall would create about 30,451 seats across the district, fewer than half of the 82,000 spaces the district says it will need by 1990. Although larger class sizes would cut costs by reducing the number of students the district would need to bus from crowded schools, this solution would pose some serious problems, researchers said.

Potential for Safety Problems

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The larger class sizes would create a shortage of science lab space and pose safety problems at the high schools, they reported. The state could also penalize the district by reducing funding if elementary classes exceeded size guidelines.

“This doesn’t sound like relief from overcrowding,” said school board member Jackie Goldberg during a public meeting last week on ways to expand school capacity. “It sounds like relief from year-round.”

The proposal to place the district’s 618 schools on a year-round calendar has proven controversial. Parents have asked the district to look at other ways of increasing capacity.

During Thursday’s public meeting, district officials disclosed the results of their research on some of the suggested alternatives. Although the board did not take action on any of them, it became apparent that none struck board members as strong possibilities.

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In addition to the suggestion to increase class sizes, district researchers considered these alternatives to year-round operations:

Staggering the starting times at schools at all levels.

Reviving the mid-year promotions system, abandoned in 1970, which enabled some students to graduate in mid-year.

Reopening schools the district closed because of low enrollments.

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District researchers agreed that staggering starting times would increase the number of students a school could accommodate while maintaining the traditional two-semester calendar.

But schools with staggered starting times would have to operate on a 12-hour schedule. Some students would have to start at 7 a.m., while others would not end their school day until 7:40 p.m, researchers said.

“This would require some students to travel to school in the dark while others would have to travel home from school in the dark,” said Barry Mostovoy, administrative consultant for the district’s school operations division.

Additionally, researchers said, the costs of an extended secondary school day would be prohibitive. Additional cafeteria, clerical and custodial staff would have to be hired to keep each campus running smoothly during the longer day. If the district decided it could not afford the extra personnel, current employees would probably be asked to work overtime on a daily basis.

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Teachers would also have to agree to stagger their work day, and such a change in scheduling would have to be negotiated with the teachers’ union.

At the elementary school level, staggered schedules are commonly known as double sessions. During the 1960s, when the district was faced with crowded conditions, many elementary schools were placed on double sessions.

But a lot has changed since then, making a return to double sessions more difficult, Mostovoy said.

For example, the state now requires that the elementary school day be 310 minutes long. For each school to meet state regulations, therefore, the first shift of students would have to start at 6:50 a.m. and finish at 12:20 p.m. The second shift would start at noon and finish at 5:30 p.m.

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Siblings on Split Shifts

Double sessions would double an elementary school’s capacity. But the district could not guarantee that siblings at the same school would attend the same shift.

Another idea was to go back to midyear promotion--that is, having half of the senior class graduate in February. That would allow half of the ninth and sixth grades to move up a semester early, creating room for a new kindergarten class each winter.

But the midyear plan, dropped 15 years ago to save money, would only aggravate the crowding problem, researchers said.

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Thelma Yoshii, a coordinator on the district’s School Utilization Task Force, said current enrollment figures indicate that 13,200 seniors would leave the district each winter in a midyear promotion program. About 24,200 kindergartners, however, would enter the district each winter.

Demand for Housing

“The district could expect an increase of 10,996 students if the midyear promotional plan were implemented, therefore causing an even greater need for housing,” Yoshii said.

A number of Valley parents have also called for the reopening of the West Valley schools that the district closed because of low enrollments.

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Reopening the eight campuses that are still empty would create space for 3,419 elementary students, according to Byron Kimball, director of the district’s facilities services division. But a survey of the number of elementary-age students who now live in neighborhoods surrounding the closed schools indicated that there were not enough youngsters to fill the schools. This would make reopening the schools economically impractical, Kimball said.

Furthermore, with such a small number of white children in these West Valley neighborhoods, only a handful of minority students from overcrowded schools could be bused to the schools. Whenever possible, the district must preserve a 60%-40% ethnic ratio at a school, according to court guidelines.

If the closed schools reopened with large numbers of minority students and only a few white students, court-approved guidelines would be violated. And the West Valley schools could not be reopened exclusively for students from overcrowded schools because, according to a district spokesman, a court might interpret the action as intentional segregation.

The school board expects to vote on its 10-point crowding-relief plan, with year-round schools as its centerpiece, next month.

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Currently 94 of the district’s schools operate year round. If the district expanded the program to include all its schools, it would be the largest district in the nation operating on such a calendar.


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