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LAUSD MAY BE OVERBUILDING 10-YEAR REPORT PREDICTS MODEST STUDENT GROWTH.

Byline: Jennifer Radcliffe Staff Writer

With a new report showing only modest student growth over the next decade, Los Angeles Unified School District board members questioned Tuesday whether the district's ambitious $10 billion construction plan could lead to overbuilding new schools.

Los Angeles Unified's student population is expected to peak at about 759,000 in 2010-11, but then fall to 752,000 in 2013-14 - just 5,000 more than current levels, according to a report released Tuesday. Previous reports showed the district's enrollment would reach 775,000 by 2009.

``Before, the danger of overbuilding was very limited,'' said Roger Rasmussen, LAUSD deputy budget director. ``There is a possibility of overbuilding now that never existed before.''

Since 1997, voters have approved $9.6 billion in construction bonds and the state matches part of that money. The LAUSD needs to build more schools so students no longer have to attend year-round schools or be bused out of their neighborhoods to less crowded campuses. More than 160 new schools are planned over the next decade.

Some LAUSD officials said the need to relieve overcrowding is so great that there is no danger of building too many schools. Original projections showed that the $10 billion construction plan would still leave the district 40,000 seats short.

``Will the need go away? Will all of a sudden everyone be on two-semester calendars and we have extra schools? No, I don't think so,'' said Glenn Gritzner, special assistant to the superintendent.

But if the demographics aren't studied carefully, the district may overbuild in some areas. Location is just as important as quantity, board member David Tokofsky said.

``If you miss a local district by 1,500 kids, we could overbuild two elementary schools there,'' Tokofsky said. ``What I'm worried about is stupid planning of locations of schools. The growth will come back, but it may not come back in areas we're dropping the cement and bricks.''

Certain pockets of the district, such as the west San Fernando Valley, have seen enrollment decreases, said Rena Perez, director of master planning.

``In some areas of the Valley, we're seeing some schools that aren't getting the enrollment we thought, but we don't know exactly why yet,'' she said.

Elementary schools are seeing the biggest lag, which some officials attribute to slowing birth rates and the slumping economy.

But predicting people's patterns is a tough order, Gritzner said.

``We're not omniscient,'' he said. ``We don't have crystal balls.''

Making matters tougher, the LAUSD will be forced to consider a slew of new, more subtle issues, such as whether opening new neighborhood campuses will really attract students back from magnet and private schools, board members said.

Eliminating involuntary busing is also expected to create big shifts in attendance patterns.

``We're going to have a school in all the neighborhoods. The kids aren't going to be on buses. If the neighbors don't come back, the schools are going to have to close,'' board member Marlene Canter said.

The LAUSD will have to market its new schools better to convince parents that they are quality facilities.

If they don't, ``Our field of dreams may not happen,'' Canter said.

Jennifer Radcliffe, (818) 713-3722

jennifer.radcliffe(at)dailynews.com

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STUDENT GROWTH

SOURCE: Los Angeles Unified School District
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:May 5, 2004
Words:546
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