Official Asks Year-Round Schedule for Los Angeles Schools
Facing what he calls a "staggering" problem of overcrowding, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District has proposed converting the entire district to a year-round calendar by 1991.
If the board of education approves the plan, Los Angeles would be the first large district in the nation to keep all of its schools open year-round. On the basis of their enrollment projections, district offi-cials estimate that some 635,000 students would be affected once the five-year plan is phased in.
The plan has drawn fire from some minority groups, which claim that it does not adequately address their complaints that predominantly minority schools do not receive equal shares of the district's resources.
The school board was scheduled to begin a series of special sessions last week to consider Superintendent of Schools HarryHandler's 10-point plan. The board is expected to vote on a final plan in mid-December and to begin phasing it in over the next five years.
School officials estimate that even after a forthcoming $360-million building program is completed, they face a potential shortage of 55,000 classroom seats by 1991, a number larger than the total enrollment in most other school districts across the country.
Hispanic students, who constituted 52 percent of the district's student body last year, are the fastest-growing segment of the school population. Their expanding numbers contributed this year to the largest one-year jump in enrollment in 20 years. Non-Hispanic whites and blacks each constitute about 20 percent of the student body, and the remaining 8 percent are Asian.
In addition to keeping the schools open 12 months a year, the plan--which Mr. Handler describes as "dramatic and far-reaching"--includes re-opening nine closed schools, raising the student/teacher ratio at predominantly minority schools, and changing the definitions of "integrated" and "predominantly minority" schools that the district has been using in its voluntary desegregation program.
Some of the proposals, Mr. Handler said, would require changes in laws or actions by other public agencies, and some would require negotiations with the teachers' union.
The U.S. Justice Department is currently investigating complaints that the district is violating civil-rights laws by allocating fewer resources to minority schools.
A spokesman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said the organization would oppose the superintendent's plan if it does not address the misallocation of resources and would chal-lenge it in court if the current Justice Department investigation does not result in legal action.
"The school board balances its budget on the backs of minority children," said Norma Cantu, director of educational programs for maldef. Statistics collected by maldef show, she added, that "there is a widespread disparity in the allocation of resources that manifests itself in many different ways."
But "the bottom line," she said, is that per pupil allocations from the school board are nearly twice as high in the underutilized predominantly white schools as in the overcrowded minority schools.
The greatest change proposed by Mr. Handler is the adoption of a consistent year-round calendar for all district schools, replacing six different schedules now being used. Currently, 93 of the district's 618 schools operate on a year-round basis.
The superintendent will ask the board to choose between two calendars. One would require students to attend four out of a possible five 45-day terms, with a three-week summer break; the other would require students to attend three of four 60-day terms.
Mr. Handler said this measure would provide 134,000 additional seats in existing schools, and in effect, save the district $1.9 billion in construction costs.
Although Mr. Handler's proposal requires that schools be air-conditioned before they are put on a year-round schedule, critics of the plan charge that it is unrealistic to expect that 500 additional schools can be air-conditioned in the next five years.
Only 65 percent of the schools currently on a year-round calendar are air-conditioned, according to district figures.
This year, some 350,000 students nationwide--about a third of them in Los Angeles--are enrolled in year-round schools, according to the National Council on Year-Round Education, based in San Diego.
Changing the maximum student-teacher ratio in predominantly minority schools is the proposal thatfaces the greatest opposition from teachers and minority groups.
Currently, the district maintains an average 27 to 1 ratio of students to teachers for grades 1-9 in schools with at least a 70 percent minority enrollment. High schools and schools that are not designated as predominantly minority have a somewhat higher average ratio.
Mr. Handler proposes raising the number of students per teacher to 29 in minority schools, which he claims will not have a significant effect on the quality of education that children receive.
However, Mr. Johnson of the utla said that many minority students do not speak English when they first enroll and thus require class sizes small enough to ensure the personal attention they need. For that reason, he added, Mr. Handler's proposal is a step in the wrong direction.
maldef strongly opposes that proposal as well as one that would reduce the number of schools that would be required to hold to the lower ratio, because fewer resources would be available to minority students, according to Ms. Cantu.
Other measures proposed by Mr.Handler include:
Modifying the definition of an "integrated" school from one that is 60 percent minority to one that is 70 percent minority. Because the change would allow the district to bus more minority students to such schools, it would provide 13,000 extra seats.
Modifying the definition of a "predominantly minority" school from 70 percent minority to 80 percent minority, thus freeing some schools from the need to provide the 27 to 1 student-teacher ratio.
Reopening 8 elementary and 1 junior high of the 22 schools closed in recent years, which would provide housing for 3,775 students.
Building small, temporary, modular schools.
Leasing classrooms from adjacent school districts.
Converting some district offices to classrooms and leasing space for the offices in other buildings.
Converting more district high schools from three-year to four-year schools.
Providing students with the option of choosing which school to attend if their local school is crowded.
Mr. Handler emphasized that his proposals are "interlocking and interwoven," and should be adopted intact. Individual measures alone, he said, would "provide only a piecemeal solution."
Los Angeles, like many other districts around the nation, faces the problem of coping with a growing number of newly-arrived immigrant children, many of them illegal aliens, as well as a high birthrate among its native minority population.
According to Dick Caldwell, the district's deputy controller, the current enrollment surge can be attributed to "a 35 percent increase in the number of births in Los Angeles County from 1973 to 1983."
The district first began using a year-round calendar in some schools five years ago, when some areas were experiencing a 10 percent increase in enrollment per year.
This fall, to handle an enrollment increase of 14,000, the largest one-year enrollment surge in nearly 20 years, the district has added 176 bungalow classrooms at district schools and has begun busing 5,700 more students to less-crowded schools.
District officials say the shortage will exist even though they are expecting $360 million in state bond money to build 16 new campuses and enlarge 24 existing schools in the most severely overcrowded areas.