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Measure To Give Parents Say in Breakup of L.A. District Advances

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The California Assembly has approved a measure that would make it easier for Los Angeles-area residents to vote to secede from their sprawling school system, the nation's second largest.

The bill, which is also expected to receive a favorable reception in the Senate, substantially lowers the number of signatures needed on a petition to hold a local vote on seceding from the Los Angeles school district.

"We are just giving parents a voice," said Janene R. Balantac, a legislative assistant to the bill's sponsor, Republican Assemblywoman Paula Boland of the Granada Hills area of the school district.

The Assembly passed the measure this month by a vote of 48 to 24. The Senate voted overwhelmingly last month to approve a companion measure addressing some of the legal and logistical concerns arising from a potential breakup of the district.

Lowering the Threshold

Parents in the San Fernando Valley, who have been stymied in past efforts to secede from the Los Angeles district, are expected to move quickly to take advantage of the eased balloting rules.

The district spans 708 square miles, has more than four million residents, enrolls 640,000 students, and employs 55,000 people. Ms. Balantac said many parents feel overwhelmed by the district's bureaucracy and the long trips they must make to go to board meetings.

"The core problem is just that it is too damned big to accommodate the concerns of local communities," said Duane Peterson, the chief of staff for Tom Hayden, the Democratic senator who sponsored that chamber's companion measure.

District residents also have felt unable to meet a statewide requirement that 25 percent of registered voters sign any petition to put a local school district secession measure on the ballot. Ms. Boland's bill lowers the signature threshold to 8 percent of those voting in the last gubernatorial race.

Eleanor G. Leo, a senior legislative analyst for the district, argued last week that the state cannot constitutionally set separate voting requirements for one region. And Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson, a Democrat who represents Los Angeles, said in an interview last week that the new measure "will pit communities against communities" and "is going to cause a catastrophe."

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