Foes of All-Year Schools Approach Job of Persuading Board With Tact

Times Staff Writer

As they begin to do battle with the school board of Los Angeles over year-round schools, San Fernando Valley parents are hoping to avoid the bitterness encountered in fights over mandatory busing and the closing of schools with low enrollments.

The bad feelings generated by the anti-busing movement of the 1970s, which had its roots in the Valley, were compounded in the early 1980s when Valley parents sued the district to stop it from closing schools. The effort failed, but some board members said they still harbor resentment over the confrontation.

This time around, Valley parents are aware that they need to persuade a majority on the school board to abandon the plan to shift more schools in the district to a year-round calendar.

"We have to be positive. We can't afford to bitch," said Barbara Romey, whose children attend Topeka Drive School in Northridge.

Thus Valley parents are trying to show the board that the fast-growing student population can be accommodated without making most of the district's schools year-round.

"We have to talk about all the children, not just Valley children," Sharon Moran, president of the Topeka Drive School Parent and Faculty Assn., recently told an auditorium full of parents.

"We can't whine. We can't tell the board that we'll leave the public school system if they don't do it our way. That won't work. We have to come up with the alternatives. We have to present positive reasons why this is the wrong place for a year-round school," Moran said.

The parents' pragmatic attitude is in part an outgrowth of the political realities of the school board. Board liberals Jackie Goldberg, Larry Gonzalez and Rita Walters have been joined by moderates Alan Gershman and John Greenwood and conservative Tom Bartman in favoring year-round schedules for some schools as an answer to the district's classroom shortage.

Only East Valley board member Roberta Weintraub said she will vote against the year-round plan. Weintraub said she hopes to find alternatives to year-round schedules, but concedes that they are "inevitable."

Weintraub and Bartman both rode the anti-busing movement to posts on the school board.

Under the proposal, up to 78 Los Angeles city schools could be converted from a traditional September-June school year to a 12-month schedule beginning July 1, 1987. Thirty-eight Valley schools--more than in any other part of the district--are being considered for the change. There are now 93 district schools on year-round calendars, 14 of them in the Valley.

Year-round schools increase their capacity by dividing students into several groups, with at least one of those groups on vacation at any given time. By making more schools year-round, the district hopes to accommodate the enrollment of 635,000 expected by 1990.

Reasons Listed

Parents give many reasons for opposing a year-round schedule. Some say it is harder to obtain child care when vacations are broken up into short periods throughout the year. Others say it will eliminate traditional summer activities such as camp, study abroad and family vacations.

Valley parents are particularly concerned about students riding buses and studying in classrooms that are not air-conditioned in the summer. At the public hearing on Thursday, parents provided evidence that, in the summer, the Valley is 16 degrees hotter than coastal communities and 9 degrees hotter than downtown Los Angeles.

"The climate in the Valley, especially in the summertime, is not ideal for learning," said Jorge Aguilar, a Topeka Drive parent. "Conditions are even worse for the children who will be bused. They will be forced to spend an hour and a half in a hot, crowded bus--this on top of spending six hours in a hot classroom."

He labeled this "a legal form of child abuse."

Counterproductive Tactics

But, as strongly as many parents feel on the issue, they have learned the hard way that angry protests can make board members dig in their heels deeper.

According to a district official who has worked closely with several Los Angeles school boards, battles in the past between Valley parents and board members "left a particularly bad taste in the mouths of board members."

Some of them believed Valley parents "were adopting racist attitudes. Sometimes, it was almost as if the Valley parents were saying, 'I've got mine, and I don't care what happens to others,' " the district official said.

Privately, school board members say they still harbor ill will toward Valley parents over their stance on mandatory busing and school closings.

In an acknowledgement that hard feelings remain, parents involved in the new fight have asked those recognized as leaders in the two other issues not to speak this time before the board.

Earlier this year, the board voted 5 to 2 to change the entire district gradually to a year-round calendar by 1991.

On Dec. 1, the board will vote on which of the 78 schools will become year-round. To change the minds of board members and overcome their distrust, Valley parents have developed a game plan offering alternatives. The strategy includes:

Asking the board to delay its vote until parents can get detailed information on the implications of year-round school schedules. According to Nancy Klinger, whose children attend Germaine Street School in Chatsworth, parents want a series of meetings in the Valley and throughout the city to discuss pros and cons of the plan before the Dec. 1 vote.

Filing a lawsuit if, on Dec. 1, the board does vote to make additional schools year-round. Parents, who said they have started looking for an attorney, would first seek a temporary restraining order to stop the district from developing conversion plans, then, a permanent injunction against the change.

Circulating petitions citywide to place an initiative on the June ballot that, if approved, would allow voters to decide on whether schools should be year-round.

Presenting alternatives. Some of the proposals parents offered the school board during a public hearing Thursday included reopening closed Valley schools, letting schools voluntarily go year-round, increasing the number of bungalows on less-crowded campuses, building modular schools in severely crowded areas and moving magnet schools to less-crowded campuses.

Creating alliances with parents in other communities who are against year-round schools and finding school board candidates who oppose the idea to run for election. Next year, five board seats will be open.

"We have a citywide issue here," said Dan Shapiro, president of the Studio City Residents Assn. "From Pacific Palisades to Pacoima. From Watts to Westwood. From Encino to East L.A. This is a people issue. This is not just a Valley issue."

For some Valley parents who have attended the hastily called meetings in crowded living rooms and drafty school auditoriums during the past two weeks, there has been a sense of deja vu stemming from the days of mandatory busing.

There are, however, some differences.

The Los Angeles school desegregation plan was the result of a drawn-out legal battle and was part of the national debate over racism in schools and other institutions. By 1978, when court-ordered busing started in Los Angeles, local resistance to busing had become part of a national backlash.

In contrast, although year-round education is controversial, there is no soul-searching, national debate on it. For the most part, conversion to year-round schools has remained a local issue. Most districts that use the 12-month schedule do so to ease crowding and avoid spending millions of dollars on construction.

What's more, integration is no longer controversial in the Valley. A voluntary integration program, coupled with the busing of students from crowded schools in other areas to Valley schools, has created the largest number of integrated campuses in the city, contrasted with other district regions.

"We are not bigots. We would not be in the public school system if we were," said Cathe Negele, whose children attend Carpenter Avenue School in Studio City. "We want our children to attend school with a diverse group of people. What we don't want is the entire system upset."

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