Plan to Build 51 Schools Unveiled
Los Angeles Unified School District administrators unveiled a $1.8-billion construction plan Monday that they said will end busing and allow all students to attend schools in their own neighborhoods within eight years.
The building plan calls for 51 new schools on year-round schedules spread across the central and eastern portions of the district, areas projected to experience the largest growth over the next decade.
The school district intends to build nine high schools, four continuation high schools, five middle schools, 13 elementary schools and 20 primary centers.
It also plans to expand 15 existing campuses, add 458 portable classrooms at 55 campuses and change boundaries to relieve overcrowding at 52 schools.
“We cannot wait one minute for this plan,” said school board President Julie Korenstein. “This is the right thing, the important thing.”
Principals at already crowded schools on year-round schedules welcomed the plan for new campuses, even as school board members acknowledged the many hurdles facing the ambitious endeavor.
“There definitely needs to be another high school in the East Valley, given the current enrollment levels,” said Principal Carolyn R. Burt of Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, where a space crunch has forced teachers to share classrooms.
With an enrollment of 3,500, Poly switched to a year-round schedule two years ago. Even so, the school will need an additional 2,379 seats to accommodate its students by 2006, when high school enrollment is expected to peak in the district.
“Our feeder schools are already on the year-round calendar,” Burt said. “More schools need to be built at all levels.”
The school district’s plan assumes that at least 174 schools now on traditional two-semester calendars will switch to year-round schedules. The new schedules call for 163 days of instruction, 17 fewer than traditional calendars, with longer school days to make up the teaching time--a strategy that has drawn criticism among educators.
“The children are tired by the end of the day. It’s not educationally sound,” said Linda Barr, program coordinator at Cantara Elementary in Reseda, one of the schools that would go year-round. “They need more days as opposed to longer hours.”
The plan comes at a time of unprecedented growth in the school district.
About 14,000 students, mostly from poor areas, are bused to distant schools because their neighborhood campuses cannot accommodate them. The number of bused students is expected to reach 30,000 in five years and 80,000 over the next decade.
“That’s the size of two Seattle school districts,” Supt. Ruben Zacarias said early Monday as he announced the plan at Cahuenga Elementary, a school near Koreatown forced to bus 1,400 students from the community each day.
School board members greeted the plan enthusiastically at a meeting later in the day, but listed potential obstacles to its completion.
Only half of the funds for the estimated $1.8-billion project is available--the school district has set aside $900 million in Proposition BB funds for new schools. The district must still come up with nearly $1 billion in additional funds.
Administrators are depending on a state bond measure they hope will be placed on the November ballot that would generate an $574 million for new schools. Even if the bond measure is placed on the ballot and passes, the district will still need to raise $350 million. Administrators say the money could come from developer fees and the district’s general fund.
“We are going to depend on the state to come through with a bond measure,” Korenstein said. “If that fails us, we’ll be in serious trouble.”
School board member Jeff Horton warned his colleagues about other looming battles, as the district condemns property to acquire the necessary land for schools.
“Buying this land is going to be a nightmare,” Horton said. “Imagine taking people’s homes and businesses. We all need to steel ourselves. Get ready. It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride. It’s going to be the most difficult thing we do.”
Steven Soboroff, chairman of the Proposition BB citizens oversight committee, urged school administrators to act carefully as they seek land for schools.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Soboroff recommended that the school district form a task force of real estate investors to offer advice.
“I would hope you would engage the private sector . . . so you wouldn’t overspend,” Soboroff told the school board.
The construction blueprint will devote $200 million to upgrade gymnasiums, cafeterias and other facilities. The plan assumes that students in all grades would like reduced class sizes. In kindergarten through third grade, that means 20 students per teacher. Classes in the remaining grades would be reduced by two to three students each.
While school board members generally applauded the building plan, at least one criticized it for failing to analyze the impact of massive construction on neighborhoods.
Board member David Tokofsky said the plan does not address how new schools will affect factors such as housing patterns and property values.
“This is a panic-driven view of how you construct a city,” Tokofsky said. “This is not a master plan. It’s a picture of where kids are and where the classroom shortages are. It is thinking at the most elementary level.”
Indeed, district administrators who developed the proposal called it a “plan for a crisis,” but said that failing to act immediately will leave schools without enough seats to house all of their students in the coming years.
Ultimately, the plan hinges on several factors, including the accuracy of district growth projections and whether the school board decides to reduce all class sizes. The board will finalize the proposal in the coming months.
“If the economy keeps growing,” said Assistant Supt. Gordon Wohlers, one of the document’s authors, “we’re going to have to come back to the school board for more schools.”
Times staff writer Vanessa Hua contributed to this story.
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