L.A. Schools Say 'No' to Year-Round Plan SCHOOL ISSUES

August 29, 1993|By LINDA SEEBACH

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles. -- Parents and students in the Los Angeles public schools have tried the year-round school calendar, and they don't like it any better now than when the Board of Education imposed it throughout the district two years ago.

Some district schools were already using year-round, multi-track calendars to ease overcrowding. In the interest of uniformity, rather than for any particular educational reason, the board adopted the year-round calendar for all schools. Los Angeles used a so-called 90-30 calendar, meaning students attended school for 90 days (half a school year), then had about six weeks off, then attended another half-year, then got another vacation.

At crowded schools, the vacation times were rotated, so some students were always off. The ones that weren't crowded also used the 90-30 calendar, replacing the regular summer vacation with two half-length vacations, but all students attended and took breaks at the same time.

That experiment came to an end in May. The board allowed 544 single-track schools to vote on which calendar they preferred -- and 543 of them elected to return to the traditional September-to-June calendar.

These schools enroll approximately 400,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students. About 265,000 students in 210 multi-track schools will stay on the year-round calendar.

"If this is what local control means," grumbled board member Jeff Horton, "that we simply abandoned any commitment to equity and allow a third of the district to be locked into something while the other two-thirds gets to take a vote and have a choice, then I'm not for it."

Local control is a very emotional issue in the district, the country's second largest, which sends columnists to their dictionaries to hunt for synonyms for "vast" and "sprawling." Efforts to break up the district are perennial, and so far unsuccessful.

The San Fernando Valley, which is a part of Los Angeles in the same spirit as Staten Island is part of New York City, feels at best neglected by downtown bureaucrats, and sometimes downright mistreated. The Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills separate the Valley not only from the rest of the city but from the cooling ocean breezes. Summers in the Valley are hot.

But the Valley's sense of injustice is nourished by overheated rhetoric as much as it is by the climate. When the board voted to adopt a uniform year-round schedule, in February 1990 and then finally in April 1991, it was "to get even with the Valley," a parent said.

Those who wanted to limit the year-round calendar to overcrowded schools, said board member Rita Walters at the time, were interested in maintaining the country-club schools in the west San Fernando Valley while creating "more sardine factories" in the inner city. Ms. Walters is now a member of the City Council.

Then-board member Jackie Goldberg, who was elected to the City Council in July, voted to approve the uniform calendar.

"If they [Valley parents] have it so tough -- in their large, multiacre schools with all the grass and higher test scores -- they ought to go to the schools in the inner city that are bursting at the seams," Ms. Goldberg said.

Issues of race and ethnicity are never far from the surface in L.A., where 87 percent of the students are minority, most of them Latino. But it was the temperature that parents complained about.

"I truly believe that if animals or prisoners were subjected to these conditions, the courts would intervene," Valley parent Jill Reiss told the school board in May.

"If this is a question of equity, I suggest you turn the heaters on over the hill and heat those classrooms to 105 degrees in August," Ms. Reiss said. "If you think it's a question of race, I invite you to come see that 73 percent of students in the Valley who are students of color, sweat, faint and get bloody noses just like the Anglos."

Most Valley schools do not have air-conditioning. Board member Julie Korenstein, who represents the west Valley, says that results from a Catch-22 imposed by the state legislature in an attempt to save money. Most of the money spent on K-12 education in California is funneled through Sacramento. JTC Legislators offered incentive money to schools that opted for year-round calendars instead of new schools as a solution to overcrowding. But single-track schools weren't eligible, because their new calendar didn't increase capacity of existing schools.

Schools started in August under the single-track program, and the board permitted them to close on especially hot days. That cost the district money, because state aid is based on daily attendance. In fact, the whole 90-30 system cost money -- about $4 million a year. That money went for transportation, coaching and tutoring during the periods that L.A. schools were closed and other districts' schools were open. The calendar included an eight-week winter break, which was no more popular with parents than the shortened summer vacation.

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