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Money Swap Proposal for After-School Care Approved by Council

Times Staff Writer

In an extraordinary acknowledgment that the city needs to help schools educate and care for youngsters in poor areas, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a proposal by Mayor Tom Bradley that indirectly pumps $2 million in city redevelopment funds into after-school programs.

The experimental effort, first proposed by Bradley in his “State of the City” address in April, will provide four hours daily of tutoring, homework assistance, recreational instruction and child care for about 2,000 children of working parents in the next two years. It is expected to begin at 10 elementary schools from Wilmington to Sylmar in four weeks.

The school-city partnership, the first of its kind in Los Angeles, is intended to keep elementary school pupils off the streets from the end of the school day to 6 p.m., while many of their parents are still at work. Police and school officials say this is a time when many youngsters get their first exposure to gang violence and drug abuse.

May Be Expanded

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If successful, Bradley has recommended that the program be extended to all 400 elementary schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, at a cost to the city of $200 million in downtown redevelopment tax revenues over the next two decades. For that to occur, however, a spending cap on the downtown money would have to be lifted--a move opposed by many critics of redevelopment.

“We believe that it is a unique program in all of the United States in that we recognize that the city has really no responsibility in terms of finances for the children of the school district,” Rita Walters of the Los Angeles Board of Education told the council. “We are very grateful that you are recognizing that we in the school district need help.”

Bradley, who has been reluctant to pay for programs beyond the traditional scope of city government, said in his April address that in this case he felt a “fundamental moral obligation to our children and to their parents.” After nearly two hours of sometimes cantankerous debate Wednesday, the council concurred by unanimously approving the pilot program.

“It is an important first step,” said Councilman Richard Alatorre, a staunch Bradley ally. “Look at this as a beginning . . . as to what we can do jointly in the future.”

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Money Swap Plan

Technically, the council approved a money swap between the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and the school district that sets up funding for the program. The CRA will contribute $2 million in “central business district” redevelopment money toward a $7.9-million skills center being built by the school district in East Los Angeles. In exchange, the school district will designate $2 million of its money for the pilot program.

CRA Administrator John J. Tuite said in an interview that the arrangement--derided by some council members as “back door financing"--was necessary because the agency could have run into legal problems if it paid for the school program directly.

The CRA is required by state law to certify that higher property taxes collected in the central business district--where property values have soared under redevelopment--are used for legitimate redevelopment purposes.

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The CRA can justify contributing to the skills center because, under its agreement with the school district, half of the students will be recruited from the central business district redevelopment area. The center is also required to provide employment training in several skills needed downtown, such as computer operations, sign painting, cable-TV installation, business machine repair and accounting.

“We wanted to stay well within the limits of the law,” Tuite said. “It was being cautious and careful.”

But several council members, led by Councilman Ernani Bernardi, an unrelenting critic of the CRA, attacked the financing deal. Bernardi accused the CRA, which operates at Bradley’s direction, of “pure electioneering politics.” Bradley faces reelection in April.


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