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Published in Print: April 21, 1999, as City in Suburban L.A. Loses Its Bid To Secede

City in Suburban L.A. Loses Its Bid To Secede

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The California state school board has turned down a request from a suburban city to break away from the Los Angeles schools, dampening the hopes of other groups that would like their areas to secede from the nation's second-largest district.

A group representing Lomita, a small, hilly city south of Los Angeles, had sought permission to chisel out a 2,000-student, three-school system from the 700,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District. But on April 7, the state board voted 7-4 against the plan.

Proponents of the Lomita measure had argued that a smaller district would be more manageable and its locally elected representatives more responsive to schools and parents.

"The smaller you are, the more effective you can be," argued Lomita City Council member Robert Hargrave, a leader of the Committee to Unify Lomita Schools. "L.A. Unified's test scores and dropout rates are terrible; parents are up in arms," he added. "We don't want to be part of that, we want local control."

Disruptive Impact Predicted

Those arguments resonated with Marian Bergeson, one of the state board members who voted in favor of the plan.

"It just makes sense," said Ms. Bergeson, who served as education secretary under former Gov. Pete Wilson, who appointed her to the board. If Lomita could run its own school system, she said, "schools would be more focused and better able to involve parents."

But the state education department had recommended that the board deny the request. The agency argued that Lomita's secession would segregate students and disrupt the region's educational program. Lomita enrollment is about 50 percent Hispanic, 21 percent white, 15 percent black, and 6 percent Asian. But if the district were to secede, the proportion of white students would increase to about 35 percent, according to state projections.

The plan "potentially promoted discrimination and segregation of [Los Angeles schools], which would be in violation of state and federal law," said Doug Stone, a spokesman for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. Other opponents, including Mayor Richard J. Riordan, the powerful Los Angeles teachers' union and other school leaders, had warned that approving the request would open the floodgates to several other secession-minded groups within the LAUSD.

Although Lomita's request was the first to reach the state board, several other Los Angeles-area groups--in South Central Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, and in the cities of Carson and Gardena--are also seeking to break away from the district.

Under state law, groups must first collect signatures in support of a secession campaign, then win approval from both the state board and local voters.

This month's vote marked Lomita's second unsuccessful attempt since the mid-1980s to withdraw from the LAUSD. If the group had won its bid, the city would have become the first suburban school system to leave the district since neighboring Torrance did some 50 years ago.

Still, the board's rejection did not entirely hamper the Lomita group's efforts. The secession group said it was considering seeking charter status for its three schools.

Vol. 18, Issue 32, Page 6

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