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Along With Secession, Study a Separate School District

The Los Angeles Unified School District has a major problem. I am not talking about the toxic mess at the Belmont Learning Complex and at the South Gate construction site.

I am not talking about the recent power struggle between the superintendent and the school board.

It’s far worse.

The basic problem is that the children in the San Fernando Valley and other parts of Los Angeles are not receiving a decent or usable education. Too many are graduating without employable skills and without the ability to obtain a college education.

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There are award-winning students in the Valley. Those students, however, are few. We must judge our school system based upon how it educates most of its students.

The school district deserves an F. For years we have heard about reform. Each year, as administrators talk about reform, students graduate without necessary skills.

The district is not telling you:

* More than half of new teachers quit within 5 years. The reason: low pay and poor working conditions.

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* During the last five years, school administrative costs have increased 62% but classroom spending has increased by only 38%.

* There is a critical shortage of schools. The district has built only eight schools since the 1970s.

* Los Angeles elementary schools scored in the bottom one-third on the Stanford 9 standardized test.

* The schools have more than 9,000 unlicensed teachers, need 650 more substitutes and have 300 classrooms with no teachers.

* The school district has an annual budget of $7.3 billion but does not have enough textbooks for all the classrooms or pay enough to attract and retain teachers.

Bad schools destroy an area’s business and residential communities. Parents do not want to move into an area with poor schools. Businesses do not want to locate in communities with a poorly educated labor pool.

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Los Angeles County’s Local Agency Formation Commission is studying the feasibility of the Valley becoming a separate city. The voters of Los Angeles should be able to decide that question in about 2 1/2 years.

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It is time to study the benefits of the Valley becoming a separate school district as well.

Earlier this week, LAUSD Supt. Ruben Zacarias proposed a plan to reorganize the district by breaking it into 12 mini-districts.

Although his plan may have been politically motivated, it nonetheless reflected the thinking at LAUSD headquarters that a reorganization of the district is urgently needed.

That thinking, and Zacarias’ plan, validates the often-heard statement that the district is too large to be effective, efficient or responsive.

Valley VOTE--Voters Organized Toward Empowerment--has organized efforts for the Valley cityhood study. Now the group is forming a committee to study whether the Valley should have a separate school district. Educational and legal experts are being consulted to determine the benefits and feasibility of such a district.

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The legal process is fairly simple.

Petitions need to be signed by approximately 20,000 Valley voters. The plan needs to be approved by the State Board of Education. Then an election would be held to approve the new district.

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Benefits of a local school district would include:

* Leadership by residents of the Valley who are aware of the needs of local schools.

* A focus on the needs of Valley schoolchildren, not 668 schools and 711,000 children throughout Los Angeles and some neighboring cities.

* Assurances that all children would be taught by credentialed teachers.

* Adequate textbooks and teaching supplies rather than Taj Mahal, $260-million Belmont-type schools.

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We must encourage parents to send their children to public schools. Too many people are moving out of the Valley because of their concern over the quality of public education. We have some excellent schools but not enough.

A separate school district would allow parents and local colleges to concentrate on fixing what’s wrong in the Valley. Currently, the district views the Valley as merely a portion of its responsibilities. As administrators focus on bigger problems, such as Belmont, Valley schools do not get the attention they need.

The Valley school board could meet locally every Tuesday night. Parents, teachers and students could discuss their needs and their solutions. That is impossible now because of the size of the district.

In view of recent chaotic events, we have the momentum to establish a separate Valley school district. Whether or not you have a child in a local school, the problem affects you.

You have a choice: You can become involved in this issue or accept the status quo. I believe we must make the Valley schools our best asset.

Richard H. Close is chairman of Valley VOTE.


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