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Riordan Backs Away From New Valley School District

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although banking heavily on San Fernando Valley voters’ support, mayoral candidate Richard Riordan is distancing himself from the movement to establish a separate Valley school district.

Riordan said Saturday he agreed with the sentiments of school district secessionists who maintain that the Valley has been disenfranchised. But instead of advocating a breakaway from the district, he called for a reorganization of the Los Angeles Unified School District into small entities.

Speaking to reporters at the opening of his campaign headquarters in Sherman Oaks, Riordan was responding to questions about the efforts of several Valley politicians, including mayoral candidate Joel Wachs, to launch a drive at City Hall and in Sacramento to create a Valley school district.

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“By breaking off the Valley into one district, you are creating the second-biggest school district in California.” It would be a district fraught with the same problems and bureaucratic inertia that plague the school system now, he said.

A few years ago, however, Riordan favored breaking the district in two. He changed his position before entering the mayoral race. His stand represents a calculated risk for a candidate trying to court voters who are increasingly alienated from the rest of Los Angeles.

On the other hand, Riordan’s position helps him avoid antagonizing inner-city residents who share the view, expressed recently by Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, that a Valley school district would promote a segregated school system that would penalize minority children.

Over the last decade, Riordan’s private foundation has spent several million dollars setting up computer learning labs to teach reading in inner-city schools in Los Angeles and around the country. For Riordan to endorse a separate Valley school system could undercut his stature as a friend of inner-city schools.

School politics puts a new twist on the mayoral race, making it clear that the candidates are going to be tested on a range of issues, some of which rarely arise in such a race. The mayor of Los Angeles does not have jurisdiction over schools, but the mayor and the City Council can exert influence through reapportionment plans and ballot measures that can shape the school district and the way it is run.

Riordan said he agreed with the view that Valley interests were hurt when the City Council voted last summer to reallocate one of two school board seats that had represented the Valley. As a result of the council’s plan, one seat straddles East Los Angeles and the East Valley.

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“The Valley has been disenfranchised. There’s no question about it,” Riordan said. “Part of (mayoral) leadership has to be to get the leadership of the Valley into the whole city.”

He called for creating a new school board seat for the Valley and for appointing more Valley residents to city commissions. “The Valley has to be recognized,” he said.

Moreover, Riordan called for breaking down the school district into many smaller districts consisting of 15 to 25 schools each.

“I think the answer is . . . to restructure the L.A. schools into clusters of high schools and feeders so (each) is like a small school district.”

He said that approach “will transfer power over finance, personnel and curriculum from Sacramento and downtown L.A. to the school site and then give the school site the authority to meet performance goals.”

Before speaking to reporters, Riordan, perspiring profusely and barely able to talk as the result of a the flu, presided over the opening of his campaign headquarters and the unveiling of his campaign slogan, “Tough Enough to Turn L.A. Around.”

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About 150 people gathered at the headquarters near Ventura Boulevard and the San Diego Freeway to hear Riordan and a group of celebrity supporters, including singer Pat Boone, actor Tom Poston, former Los Angeles Laker Happy Hairston and former Los Angeles Ram Pat Haden.

Riordan’s political advisers say that the “Tough Enough” theme refers to the millionaire investor-lawyer’s record as a successful venture capitalist and philanthropist as well as his proposals for making the city safe and prosperous again. Riordan would hire 3,000 more police officers, financing it by privatizing some city services and by sharply cutting the budgets of some city departments.

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