Let the School Bell Ring at the Belmont Complex

Rafael Gonzalez is executive director of Public Allies-Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for diverse young leaders to practice leadership and strengthen communities.

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education will determine the fate this week of not only the Belmont Learning Complex but also its surrounding neighborhoods.

For more than 20 years, the communities of Pico Union, Westlake, MacArthur Park, Temple Beaudry, Angelino Heights, Echo Park, Chinatown and downtown have struggled with an overcrowded Belmont High School and have been waiting for a new high school to be built. An estimated 5,000 additional high school seats are needed to accommodate the Belmont High School attendance area.

In a community that is already fractured by school busing and a recent history of opportunistic squatting for political gain, an unfinished school resembling a ghost town should not stand any longer in the way of our youth's education and community development.

Growing up in Pico Union in the 1970s, I attended Hobart Elementary School and in the sixth grade was reluctantly bused by order of the school district to Dixie Canyon Elementary in Sherman Oaks. I attended Berendo Junior High and would have attended Belmont High School, but the push from school officials for me to attend a high school in the San Fernando Valley won out.

Because of the neighborhood's high density and subsequent school overcrowding, my community of friends from Hobart and Berendo were dispersed all over the city to high schools like Belmont, Los Angeles, Manual Arts, Jefferson, Chatsworth, North Hollywood, Grant, Reseda, Birmingham, Verdugo and Van Nuys. Instead of choosing school busing, I attended the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, which at the time was located just west of Pico Union. I walked to school and graduated in 1985. In the process I lost touch with childhood friends, who were spending a large part of their daily lives on a school bus.

The youth of today deserve better; I urge the board to support and play a part in uniting our community by supporting the construction of the Belmont Learning Complex.

We now know that the school can be safely completed.

From community surveys and conversations I've had with parents and youths from the neighborhood, the consensus is strong: Families want to see the school built.

Let's not wait any longer; our families have waited long enough. Let's not continue randomly dispersing our youth to schools throughout the city.

Let the neighborhood have the Belmont Learning Complex to serve as an anchor for community building.

Let the school bell ring at the Belmont Learning Complex.

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