The proposal to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District, which passed the friendly state Senate but was expected to face withering opposition in the Assembly, gained momentum Tuesday when the chairwoman of a key Assembly committee announced she no longer opposes it.
Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), who just two months ago voted against dismantling the district, said she now favors an overhaul of the district "that might include breaking it up" if the bill is amended to prevent it from creating districts with sharp differences in wealth. Eastin is chairwoman of the Education Committee, the bill's first stop in the Assembly.
Steve Glazer, a spokesman for Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who wrote the breakup bill, described the softening of Eastin's position "as a positive sign." But he cautioned that Roberti has not taken a stand on changes suggested by Eastin.
Roberti's measure was expected to face a stiff fight when it came up today in Eastin's committee. But on Tuesday Eastin unexpectedly delayed action on the measure for a week, saying she wants to craft a compromise that would still allow the controversial issue to be placed on the ballot in November, 1994, as called for in Roberti's timetable.
Eastin, a potential candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, said a number of her Assembly colleagues are concerned that the breakup will create rich "uptown districts in the San Fernando Valley" while others would be impoverished.
Eastin said her goal is "a comprehensive restructuring" of the 640,000-student district in which financial resources are spread throughout the new districts and "to make sure there aren't a few Cadillac schools and the rest are jalopies."
Last week, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) repeated his strong objections to the breakup measure, saying, "I've told the whole world I'm opposed to it." Brown also said he doubted if Roberti could muster enough votes to pass it out of Eastin's committee.
But Brown--who is politically allied with the powerful California Teachers Assn., which along with the school district opposes the bill--also stressed that the measure would receive a fair hearing.
Roberti's measure, fueled by criticism of the school system from Valley parents, would establish a commission of more than two dozen members to devise a plan to split the school system into at least seven smaller ones.
In outlining the broad themes of her compromise, Eastin said she would prefer "a more thoughtful" approach to dismantling the district. Also, she said she would seek to give the commission more authority to determine whether the breakup is needed and then craft its own plan. She said lawmakers "can't micro-manage" the process.
Eastin described the issue as "sticky" and "difficult" but said she believes Roberti can accomplish his goal "as long as he's open-minded (and) as long as he's not too prescriptive" in giving direction to the commission.
But she maintained that Roberti's approach is more comprehensive than another breakup bill by Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) that was rejected in April by the Assembly Education Committee. At the time, Eastin joined six other Democrats in voting against the measure.
"Roberti has a much more complete approach than Boland," Eastin said. "There are people who voted against Boland . . . who want to vote for a bill like this," Eastin said.
Another difference is that as the Senate president pro tem, Roberti carries much more clout than a back-bench GOP lawmaker such as Boland. Perhaps more importantly is a considerable change in the political landscape since Boland's measure was voted on by the committee.
Since then, a school voucher choice initiative has been placed on a statewide election ballot for November. Roberti, who opposes the voucher initiative, has said that it would probably help him persuade other lawmakers to back his breakup bill, on the theory that the prospect of dismembering the district would defuse anger at the system that is expected to help the initiative campaign.
Glazer, Roberti's spokesman, said the senator is not backing away from his legislation.
Said Glazer: "He continues to believe that his legislation to empower a commission to break up the district subject to a public vote is the right way to go."
But he added, "We see that the committee's request for a delay (in the hearing) as a clear indication that they are giving Roberti's legislation and the issue in general very serious consideration."
In the Los Angeles City Council meanwhile, supporters of the breakup bill, led by Councilman Hal Bernson, failed to get the council to go on record Tuesday as supporting the proposal.
Bernson, who represents the northwestern Valley, needed 10 of the council's 15 votes to pass the motion on an emergency basis, but could muster only eight.
Because of the extra time now available before Eastin's committee acts, Bernson aides said they were hopeful they can get the bill endorsed by a simple majority of eight votes, bypassing the emergency requirement for 10.