Planners Propose Reopening Just 1 School--Prairie

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Unified School District planners said Tuesday that they have scrapped a proposal to reopen three San Fernando Valley elementary schools in favor of one to reopen only Prairie Street Elementary in Northridge.

Several school board members, however, predicted heated debate over the proposal. The board is scheduled to vote on Prairie's future Jan. 25.

Less than a month ago, the district staff recommended that Parthenia Street School in Sepulveda, Rinaldi Street School in Granada Hills and Prairie be reopened in 1988 to reduce the district's classroom shortage. They were among 19 West Valley schools closed in the early 1980s because of low enrollments.

The district staff decided that the extra classroom space was not needed when fall enrollment in the district's 618 schools was not as large as had been projected. The district expected to enroll 14,000 more students this school year, but only about 2,000 have been added.

The staff supports reopening Prairie because its classroom space will be needed eventually, said Sara Coughlin, an assistant superintendent. The reopening also would be a symbol to parents that the district is striving to provide space for students, she said.

"It has been very difficult for some parts of the community to rationalize year-round schools when some campuses are closed," she said.

Coughlin said another factor was that Prairie, closed in 1984 after parents waged a bitter fight to keep it open, has "the best shot" of approval by the seven-member board.

But at least three school board members think otherwise. They said the proposal to reopen Prairie is sure to generate spirited debate among board members.

Some board members already have questioned whether it would be cost-effective to reopen the school. Others have speculated that it might be best to continue the district's practice of busing students from crowded campuses to less crowded ones with portable classrooms.

"I'm not saying that we will never need to reopen Prairie or any of the other schools. I'm asking whether at this moment we have that need," said board president Rita Walters, who has argued against reopening closed schools.

Vote a Showdown

But Roberta Weintraub, who represents the East Valley, said the vote may prove to be a showdown on the fate of all closed schools. In 1984, Weintraub voted against closing Prairie.

"If we can't reopen Prairie, we can't reopen any of them," Weintraub said.

Julie Korenstein was elected to the board last June on a platform that called for reopening all closed schools. She said at least two board members have not indicated how they will vote on reopening Prairie.

"I can't say that I get good vibes on the upcoming vote, and I can't say that it's hopeless," Korenstein said.

The latest proposal calls for pupils to be divided between Prairie and crowded Dearborn Street Elementary in Northridge. Dearborn would house kindergarten through third-grade classes and Prairie fourth- through sixth-grade classes.

Under the proposal, 50 hearing-impaired students and up to 274 youngsters from crowded schools in the East Valley would also be taught at Prairie.

In all, 634 pupils would be taught at the school, a district planning report estimates.

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