Published Online: April 16, 1997

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Plan To Lop Off 200,000 Students From L.A. Unveiled

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One of several groups seeking to secede from the Los Angeles Unified School District has unveiled a plan to create two new districts in the northern suburbs that would siphon nearly 200,000 students from the nation's second-largest school system.

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The long-awaited plan to carve off the San Fernando Valley seeks to take advantage of a 1995 state law that lowered the political barriers to breaking up the massive 667,000-student district. ("Bill To Make 'Breakup' of L.A. District Easier Clears," Aug. 2, 1995.)

The proposal unveiled this month by a group calling itself Finally Restoring Excellence in Education is the most ambitious of several separate plans to split off parts of the 708-square-mile system.

"We have a district that is basically not manageable," said Stephanie Carter, a former teacher who is a co-chairwoman of the San Fernando group. "Children are being lost through the cracks."

Whether supporters will get a chance to test their vision of smaller, more responsive districts remains uncertain.

Hostility on Several Fronts

Even before the group can put the issue to voters in a referendum, it must negotiate a series of procedural obstacles, including review by the state school board. If it approves the plan, the board must then define the geographic boundaries in which a referendum would occur--a decision that could make or break the initiative.

Jeff Horton, the president of the Los Angeles school board, said last week that secessionists were mainly interested in seizing power and have failed to show how a breakup would improve services for students.

"My feeling is that it would be not just a waste of time, but also a diversion of resources and attention from where it should be going, and that is the classroom," Mr. Horton said.

District officials, while not taking a formal position on the specific breakup ideas, have been urging the state board to impose more stringent requirements on areas looking to secede.

Breakup advocates also face formidable political opposition from United Teachers of Los Angeles. The 35,000-member union has joined several civil rights groups in pushing to preserve the existing district.

Under the San Fernando secession plan, the valley suburbs would be bisected by a boundary running from east to west.

The resulting northern district would serve an estimated 108,000 students, 82 percent of them nonwhite. The southern swath would enroll 88,000 students, 73 percent of them from racial or ethnic minorities. The student body of the LAUSD is currently more than 88 percent nonwhite.

The next step for the plan's supporters is to get permission from a countywide school-boundary commission to gather petition signatures from voters in the affected communities.

Ms. Carter said the group had no illusions about the road ahead.

"Anything of this magnitude is a long, slow process," she said.

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