PROFILE / JULIE KORENSTEIN : Embattled School Board Member Tries to Stretch With the Territory : Trustee stresses her record in a post-redistricting reelection battle. Her turf now includes the Westside.


By next April, if everything goes as expected, Julie Korenstein will be embroiled in what most observers predict will be a tough bid to retain her seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education.

It will be Korenstein's fourth election battle in six years but will be something new for her in certain notable respects. This fight was precipitated by a bitterly contested redistricting plan that carved up the San Fernando Valley and extended Korenstein's constituency into the Westside.

For the first time, her political fate will be decided to a large extent by voters outside her traditional power base in the Valley. And her stiffest competition will probably come from one of her own colleagues, school board member Mark Slavkin, the representative for the Westside who was thrown into the same district as Korenstein when the boundaries were redrawn.

But at this point, Korenstein, 48, professes to be more anxious over the anticipated educational budget cuts.

"I'm not that concerned about it," she said of her reelection prospects. "I'm far more concerned about how we'll get through this next school year with the major cuts we'll be going through and how we'll protect our children in the process."

The numbers, though, can appear daunting for Korenstein in her new district, which stretches from Porter Ranch--where she lives--to Los Angeles International Airport.

According to David Ely, a consultant for the city of Los Angeles, 60% of the registered voters in the newly configured zone live on the Westside, compared to 40% in the western San Fernando Valley portion. Add to that Slavkin's immense popularity on the Westside, and even Korenstein--a Democrat who nearly snatched Hal Bernson's City Council seat from under him last year--acknowledges that the path to reelection will be rocky.

"I've never had an easy election," she said. "I've always had to run real hard and never take anything for granted. I have a lot of political friends there in the Westside; my base is very broad. It's not just the San Fernando Valley, even though politically that's where I've been active for the past five years."

She said the interests of the Valley, particularly the western areas, often mesh with those of the Westside--issues such as school autonomy, school district restructuring and a lawsuit settlement that equalizes school funding throughout the district, which roused the ire of many parents in the Westside and the Valley.

But the creation of the new district puts Korenstein in an interesting position. Throughout the remap controversy, she asserted that the three board members whose districts included wedges of the Valley but who could count on a wider core of non-Valley support, would cater to those constituents. Now Korenstein, a self-cast champion of Valley interests, represents one of those districts, which she describes as "two-thirds city, one-third Valley."

However, she said she will continue to vote according to "what is best for the children."

"It doesn't have to be 'Valley or city,' " she said. "My motivation will be to support issues that will benefit the kids. . . . I've done that already. Even though I represent the San Fernando Valley, that's the way I've been voting, so I don't have to change my way of voting all of a sudden.

"Our values are not tremendously opposed to one another," she said of the two areas. "The people who have hung in with public education from the Westside and the Valley are very similar. These are people who did not remove their kids and put their kids in private schools. They are believers in public education. That is probably the common thread that will bind us together."

But the immediate challenge facing her is to acquaint herself with these same parents, many of whom probably do not know that the baton for their community has already passed from Slavkin to Korenstein, said Pam Bruns, an active Pacific Palisades mother.

"She doesn't know any of us yet," Bruns said. "She doesn't know any of the schools. There's going to be a lot of visiting schools and getting to know the issues.

"There's a lot of ground for her to cover between now and next April. Mark's been very responsive. . . . I think most people will continue to go to Mark to continue the dialogue and the projects we've started with him."

Korenstein said she hopes to expand a Valley advisory committee she created to include Westside parents and teachers.

But her energies are also being channeled into a rejuvenated cause she previously opposed: Valley secession from the massive Los Angeles Unified School District.

The idea, which has existed in one form or another for more than two decades, has recently attracted the endorsement of many parents and some Valley lawmakers. Until a few years ago, Korenstein had rejected the idea, fearing that a fragmented school district would wield less influence in Sacramento.

Now, after the redistricting, which she and others contend disenfranchises an already "orphaned" Valley, Korenstein is pursuing the creation of a separate Valley school district. Although others have privately criticized her nascent support of a split as a ploy to curry Valley support for the April, 1993, election, Korenstein calls it a way of restoring local control over public education.

"When I first became a board member, I was not supportive of the idea," she acknowledged. "But after being on the board for five years, you just realize that you cannot make the system work when it's this large. My hope is that by making the district smaller, there's more accountability, more accessibility and people locally have more control over what happens.

"And if that happens, some of the Westside people have told me they would like to have their own district as well, so we may be able to work in partnership on that."

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