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Board OKs Ambitious Education Project : Schools: Belmont Learning Complex would eliminate busing for 3,600 students. Curriculum would be linked to career interests.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the first step toward creating a large complex of schools in one of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s most crowded areas, the Board of Education on Monday approved an ambitious project aimed at providing 16,500 students with courses linked to their career interests.

The project would be the largest of its kind in the nation and would enable about 3,600 students who are bused to less crowded campuses primarily in the San Fernando Valley to remain in their Pico-Union, Chinatown and Echo Park neighborhoods, district officials said.

“All the kids who are on the bus now will have a choice to come home,” said Dominic Shambra, the district’s director of planning and development. “We’re looking at taking a different instructional approach and using our facilities in different ways.”

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The Belmont Learning Complex would involve converting Belmont High into a middle school, building a new high school for 5,300 students on 35 acres Downtown near Temple Street and Beaudry Avenue, and opening a communications and media high school on an existing campus. The district also plans to open a so-called Newcomer School designed for immigrant students.

The board voted 5 to 1 to move forward on the project. Board member Leticia Quezada opposed the project because of its size and cost.

Although the district has already acquired the land for the high school, officials say they are relying on the state to pay most or all of the $110-million price tag.

Whether the project gets funded probably will be determined in November when voters decide a school construction bond measure. The district, the largest in the state, would receive a large chunk of that money.

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“We’re betting on the come,” Shambra said. “If that bond doesn’t pass, nobody will build a school in the state.”

Nonetheless, district officials said they are forging ahead with their ambitious plan to open the schools by July, 1998. “It’s on a fast track,” Shambra said.

Even if the district does not receive full funding from the state, Shambra said the school system has other options. The developer could build and finance the project and then the district could later buy it back, he said.

But board members expressed concern that the money might not be available and that the project could be derailed. “It’s a lot of money and I don’t know where the millions of dollars are going to come from,” Quezada said. “I can’t really feel confident that we can say the money will come.”

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The board is expected to vote again in January--to approve a developer and final plans for the high school--and officials said they would have a better idea then of the financial picture.

The schools would be state-of-the-art campuses with computers in every classroom.

Students would be able to take courses--and ultimately find internships--in international studies, health and human services, law and government and travel and tourism. A so-called Media Academy would be established at the existing Downtown Business Magnet, which is next to the district’s television station offices.

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Quezada said she opposed the size of the proposed high school, saying it is too large and would be unfair to teachers and students.

But board member Vickie Castro, whose district includes most of the Belmont complex, said it is imperative that the students have local schools in their neighborhoods. “I think it’s criminal that we keep so many kids on the buses. . . . This is long overdue.”

The idea for the project was developed by the school district and a large community task force that included residents, parents, teachers and administrators. Board member Jeff Horton commended the panel for coming up with the plans.

“The result is way more than I could have imagined,” Horton said.

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