No matter how the San Fernando Valley might be carved up into new school districts, the percentage of minority students would drop markedly compared to the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to preliminary maps released this week.
The population of a whole Valley district would be about 76.7% minority, compared to 88.7% minority in LAUSD, and the disparities would be even greater if the Valley were divided into two or more districts under three scenarios predicting the effects of a possible LAUSD breakup.
None of the proposals--the first such specific plans to be released since the long-dormant breakup movement gained momentum last year--are final. Instead, they are intended to show the potential impacts of divorcing the Valley from the nation's second-largest school district, said Bobbi Farrell, who leads the volunteer task force that prepared the maps.
Distributed at a meeting in Van Nuys on Wednesday night, the maps also are the first step in a months-long process in which parents from across the Valley will discuss the breakup and present ideas on how best to proceed in a report to be issued this summer, said Farrell, head of the 31st District Parent Teacher Student Assn. It is unlikely, she added, that any of the scenarios unveiled this week would survive in their current form.
"I would think that if the Valley is split, the lines will be much more complicated," said Sara Balding, who helped create the three roughly drawn maps. "We plan to look more in-depth at the feelings and attitudes of the community."
Community support is critical, Balding and others said, because whatever new district emerges will need it to survive. She said the effort will be difficult and quoted St. Teresa of Avila by saying: "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."
And many tears are likely in the years ahead. The earliest voters might cast ballots on any potential breakup proposal would be 1997. Then there remains the prospect of years of litigation and negotiation as LAUSD's billions of dollars in assets and debts are divvied up and responsibility for everything from employee pensions to campus security is determined.
Even if the Valley split from Los Angeles Unified--with its 649,000 students--and became its own district, it would remain among the largest in the state, with a student population of about 184,000, according to the PTSA proposals, whose data was culled from school district files and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some critics argue that that size would still be too large and instead advocate slicing the Valley into at least four mini-districts based on existing clusters in which elementary schools and junior highs feed high schools.
But the smaller a district gets, the more tenuous its funding. A larger district would have a larger tax base and greater access to state money, Farrell said.
"There are a lot of programs to pay for," Farrell said. "Many small districts can't afford magnet schools or opportunity schools or vocational schools. Those sorts of issues are what make a larger district attractive."
Then there is the sensitive issue of racial balance to consider.
A single Valley district would have a greater percentage of white students than that of the LAUSD, although it would remain about three-quarters minority, according to the PTSA projections.
If the Valley were split into northern and southern districts--roughly along Roscoe Boulevard--about 81% of the northern area's 90,691 students would be minority while about 72.4% of the southern area's 93,117 students would be.
Yet if split east-west, roughly along the San Diego Freeway, the differences would be more dramatic. About 65.6% of the western area's 77,291 students would be minority compared to about 84.7% of the eastern area's 106,442.
Numbers like that are important because, legally, boundaries cannot be drawn to exclude ethnic groups or to limit the number of poor students. Tony Alcala of the Northeast Valley Multi-Ethnic Coalition said he supports creation of a single, large Valley district because he fears smaller districts might balkanize different communities.
Alcala said he fears students in poorer neighborhoods would be forgotten as parents from tonier communities fight over boundary lines. "If you break the Valley into four or five districts," he said, "you end up breaking up communities."
The proposals mark the first significant movement on the breakup debate--which has risen and fallen over the past 27 years--in several months. Breakup proponents said they were invigorated by a package of bills signed last year by Gov. Pete Wilson, which makes secession easier, as well as a formal proposal for a south Los Angeles school system that was submitted just last week.
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Drawing the Lines
A task force studying the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District this week released three scenarios for the San Fernando Valley. None of the proposals are final, but are intended to show the potential impact of the breakup:
Greater San Fernando Valley
K-12 Enrollment: 183,708
Ethnicity: 76.7% minority
Poverty rate: 16.4%
K-12 Enrollment: 77,291
Ethnicity: 65.6% minority
Poverty rate: 11%
K-12 Enrollment: 106,442
Ethnicity: 86.7% minority
Poverty rate: 22%
K-12 Enrollment: 90,591
Ethnicity: 81% minority
Poverty rate: 16%
K-12 Enrollment: 93,117
Ethnicity: 72.4% minority
Poverty rate: 10%
Source: 31st District PTSA