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Proposal Would Reallocate Funds for Desegregation

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It’s the opposite of a silver lining.

Obscured by recent headlines promising a financial windfall for public schools is a state budget proposal that would yank $118 million from the Los Angeles Unified School District and more than $100 million from other urban districts around the state.

Assembly Republicans want to take the money--used to achieve desegregation through busing, magnet schools, class size reductions and other programs--from large districts and redistribute it to all schools in the state. The schools could use the money for a variety of purposes, including reducing class sizes.

The proposal, which is part of the $63-billion budget the Assembly passed Thursday, is not included in the Senate’s budget. And it is given little chance of surviving the process for resolving the differences between the two documents.

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Still, said Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Sid Thompson, “when it’s cleared one house, you have to worry. We can’t have any glitches or we’re in trouble.”

Under the proposal, Los Angeles, which receives about two-thirds of the money the state spends on desegregation programs, would lose the largest amount--roughly one-third of its $340-million budget for that purpose.

A cut of that size would be devastating, hitting the district’s successful magnet programs especially hard, said Assistant Supt. Theodore Alexander, who heads the district’s desegregation programs.

That prospect has alarmed parents throughout the district and prompted an aggressive campaign to stop the proposal, particularly among parents whose children attend the schools offering special programs for the gifted and in science, arts and other areas.

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“This entire thing has got everyone in a panic, because we’ve found a school that will cater to our kids’ needs and it’s in the process of being taken away from them,” said Ken Marangell, whose twin 9-year-olds attend Balboa Magnet Elementary in Northridge.

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Marangell and his wife, Susan, handed out fliers in front of the school Friday, urging parents to write or phone the six state lawmakers who will reconcile the differences between the Assembly and Senate versions of the budget.

Other parents of magnet school students have held meetings, handed out informational fliers and made phone calls. More than 100 parents turned out at a meeting in San Pedro recently to plan an attack on the proposed cut.

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“Parents are concerned that the magnets, which are just excellent programs, will be gone forever,” said April Sandell of Rancho Palos Verdes.

Sandell’s son attends a program for gifted children at Dodson Middle School in San Pedro, and her daughter attends a magnet program at San Pedro High School. Magnet schools, which have smaller classes and specialized curricula, consistently post higher test scores than the rest of the district’s schools.

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“There’s a fear that the students are going to get lumped together in the general student population, which will reduce the level of achievement,” Sandell said.

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Under the plan, several urban school districts would lose money if the desegregation funds are redistributed. San Diego schools would lose $15 million, San Francisco $13 million and San Jose $10.5 million. Other districts that would be affected include San Bernardino, Pasadena and Oakland.

The governor’s budget calls for $500 million in desegregation funds statewide, and the GOP Assembly plan would redistribute $250 million of that.

Los Angeles Unified’s Thompson said the redistribution plan results “from an attitude that the urbans have been getting all the money. Let’s take some of it and pass it around. And in my opinion, it is shortsighted.”

Observers say the plan is not likely to gain the support of two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate, which it needs to take effect. But the proposal has focused attention on how urban districts spend the funds.

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Under the magnet program, children from throughout the district are allowed to apply for magnet schools, and the competition to get into them is often intense. The schools are required to maintain racially balanced enrollments, and encourage integration by offering educational opportunities to attract parents who might otherwise decide to send their children to private schools or leave the district.

They cost more to operate primarily because the district pays to bus students from across the sprawling school system.

“The magnets seem to be the only part of Los Angeles Unified School District that is working, and to mess with them seems really foolish,” said Barry Levine, whose children attend the Community School in the Fairfax district.

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That school enrolls about 360 children from around the city in a program specializing in the humanities and the arts. About 250 of those students now get to school on district-provided buses, transportation that probably would be eliminated if the state budget reallocated the desegregation money.

Because the district operates under a court order requiring it to take steps to lessen the harmful impact of racial segregation, a budget cut would force the district to spend most of its remaining money to improve predominantly minority schools.

“We need to look at kids with the greatest need,” said the district’s Alexander.

The idea of redistributing the desegregation money that now goes to the 12 school districts with large populations of minority students came from Assemblyman Bernie Richter (R-Chico).

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Charles Geshekter, Richter’s chief consultant, said the cut, if it goes through, won’t automatically hit magnet programs.

“Magnet schools seem to be worthwhile programs,” he said. If L.A. Unified takes money away from them, he said, “it won’t be because the money isn’t there. It will be because the district made a conscious decision to use it someplace else.”


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