A proposal to break up the massive Los Angeles Unified School District has sparked heated debate between backers and opponents who want to reform but not dismantle the system.
The movement to split the San Fernando Valley from the nation's second-largest public school system is spearheaded by a group called Finally Restoring Excellence in Education, or FREE. The group wants to divide the Valley into northern and southern districts with about 100,000 students in the north and 90,000 in the south.
Supporters say smaller districts would provide greater local control, increased access to administrators and greater educational opportunities. Opponents say students would be best served by improving teaching, drafting tougher academic standards and making sure schools are safe. They also contend that smaller classes--not necessarily smaller districts--help students.
KARIMA A. HAYNES asked a public high school principal and a student to discuss the impact of a dismantled LAUSD.
Principal, El Camino Real High School, Woodland Hills
We are working very hard at El Camino to improve student achievement. It is my concern that all of the issues involving the breakup of the district will cause us to steer away from that objective.
The dynamics of a breakup would involve teacher issues, school facilities issues, funding issues--it involves so many issues outside of the classroom that I am concerned that we would lose our main focal point, which is to improve student achievement.
The breakup issue has been on the table for many years. I recognize that there is a need to streamline and change what goes on in LAUSD. The movement's disruption of the district would [outweigh] any gains of local control.
Currently, one-third of our students are transported to the school from other neighborhoods. We could lose one-third of the student body. More importantly, I think of what it would do to their lives. They come from communities where there are overcrowded schools. They come out to El Camino where it is assumed that they would receive an excellent education. I feel a commitment to those young people--they should have a safe school that has the capacity to accept them.
The trauma of kids changing schools is a very real one. Youngsters very quickly connect with their school environment. A breakup of the district would be one more distraction that they don't need.
17, Cleveland High School junior, Reseda
At first I thought the breakup plan was a good idea, until I really started thinking about what could happen: We would have to start from scratch--with no money.
Large districts are not really good, but small districts aren't really good either. It's better to have a medium-sized district. If we separated and made a Valley district, we would be too small. A breakup may help inner-city schools because they would get more money and more attention. But for the Valley, we would not have as much money, and the schools would decline.
We would also have to set up a new school board. I went to a meeting the other day. The board members didn't seem to care about the students. I think it is more political. They take the job as a stepping stone for their political careers. If we started all over again with a new board, it probably wouldn't be any better.
We have a lot of students from L.A. who are bused to our school. I don't know if they would still be able to come. Students would not react well to a breakup because they would be separated from the friends they have had for a long time.
I don't think student achievement would improve because really good teachers might have to leave and we may not have the money for the good programs we have now. We have a magnet program at our school called the Cleveland Humanities Magnet. About 90% of the people who graduate from the magnet go on to college. The magnet has all the resources it needs and good teachers. If we broke away, we probably wouldn't have all the resources and it wouldn't be as good. The magnet gets more money anyway and those of us who have no money now will have even less money later.
A breakup would also have an effect on our school's sports teams. Most of the people on the football team are bused in from L.A. It would mess everything up. But on a positive note, maybe people who wanted to get on the team but didn't make it could have the opportunity to play.