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No Quick Fix for Schools

It’s no surprise to see the secessionist group Valley VOTE jump on the bandwagon to split up the Los Angeles Unified School District.

You could argue that trying to secede from the clearly troubled LAUSD--which in the last weeks seemed to be self-destructing before our eyes--always made more sense, or at least has more popular support, than trying to cleave the San Fernando Valley from the rest of Los Angeles. Some Valley residents confuse the two movements, citing disappointment with schools as the reason they want to form a Valley city.

But as with its efforts to form a new city, Valley VOTE makes forming a new school district sound simple. It is anything but.

In 1997 Mayor Richard Riordan, taken with the notion that smaller is better, commissioned the UCLA Urban Education Studies Center to look at the possible dismantling of the Los Angeles school district. The center examined the complexity of dividing the district’s finances, special education resources, magnet schools, employees, assets and liabilities.

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Take, for instance, the 14,500 students who are bused daily to relieve crowding. According to the UCLA study, current law does not dictate whether these transfers would have to continue between separate districts or, if so, which district would pay for and coordinate the transportation. If transfers were stopped, the law doesn’t say where to find money for needed new schools.

Simple? Not exactly.

Secessionists also take for granted that forming a separate Valley school district, like forming a new city, would solve all problems. If only that were true.

Consider the number and complexity of the school district’s problems. Sheer size and an entrenched bureaucracy may be among them, but so are overcrowded schools, underachieving students, high dropout rates, a shortage of teachers and textbooks and barriers caused by the 85 languages spoken in the district. Forming a new district is not going to make these challenges go away.

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Supporters of a separate Valley school district tout the greater accountability and stronger parent-school relationships that would result. But the published reports on the benefits of smaller districts deal almost exclusively with very small districts of only a few thousand students.

A Valley district would peel off nearly one-third of the LAUSD’s 700,000 students. Even two Valley districts, which have been proposed, would have more than 100,000 students each, making them among the largest in the state.

The 1997 UCLA study did not take a position on whether the LAUSD should be divided, aside from pointing out just how complicated a breakup would be.

But it strongly stated that, given the complexity, breaking up the district in one coordinated effort, through a master plan, would be far better than a series of secessions.

So it’s crucial that Valley VOTE--and Valley residents--keep in mind that there are no quick fixes here, no simple solutions. Splitting apart the school district is not going to magically make the district’s problems better.

And an attempt to secede from the district without coordination, without a master plan that included not just the Valley but the remaining district, would be disastrous for the ones who matter most here: kids.

As with its efforts to form a new city, Valley VOTE makes forming a new school district sound simple. It is anything but.


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