For years, parents with school-aged children who live within the Los Angeles Unified School District’s boundaries have looked for educational opportunities in nearby school districts such as El Segundo, Culver City and Santa Monica.
LAUSD has approved several thousands of these requests, called inter-district transfers, often routinely.
Last month, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced that the school district would no longer issue inter-district permits to students who wish to study outside of LAUSD’s boundaries. Parents will now be directed to their school of residence for student registration and enrollment, LAUSD officials said.
Cortines’ announcement came after the school board directed the superintendent to revise the transfer procedure.
“We have made great strides in improving the educational options for students who reside within the boundaries of our school district. In light of these improvements, I have asked staff to revise our current permit policy to limit the types of permits issued for students and families requiring attendance in other districts,” Cortines wrote in a letter to the school board on February 16th.
“In order to retain our students, maintain enrollment and revenue, I have directed the Office of Permits and Student Transfers to restrict the types of outgoing inter-district permits. Effective immediately, LAUSD will only offer two types of permits: parent employment and senior status.”
In the former case, state law permits students to attend a school or district in the city or area of a parent’s physical work location.
“We will also offer senior status permits to allow students to complete the final year at their school of attendance at their current elementary, middle or high school,” Cortines wrote. “We estimate recovering as many as 80 percent of the students currently attending other districts.”
There is a fiscal component to the superintendent’s plan. The school district stands to receive a substantial windfall by having students who live in areas where there are LAUSD schools attend their neighborhood school, he said.
“With the superintendent’s new policy, over 12,000 students would return to the district, and the district would get over $50 million. So certainly, the budget is one issue,” Gayle Pollard-Terry, a school district spokeswoman, acknowledged.
Like most school districts throughout the nation, LAUSD is facing a significant budget deficit of $640 million and is examining a number of ways to reduce the shortfall.
For years, LAUSD has granted a number of different permits for childcare, continuing enrollment and opportunity. But the opportunity to bring more students back to their neighborhood schools and make a dent on the budget shortfall caused Cortines and the school board to reconsider the policy.
Kelly Kane, whose children attend Westport Heights Elementary School in Westchester, doesn’t think LAUSD has the right to enforce the new revised transfer policy.
“If someone wants to leave the school district, that’s their prerogative,” said Kane, a leader of a local control movement in Westchester that hopes to attract students who live in the area to the local schools. “LAUSD has no way to enforce this (policy).”
Policies regarding intra-district/open enrollment and inter-district/reciprocal agreement transfers are the responsibility of each local district governing board, according to the California Department of Education. Each local district governing board has ultimate authority over general education processes such as district transfers.
Last year, LAUSD allowed 12,249 students to transfer to other school districts and accepted 1,931.
A group of parents in Playa del Rey and Westchester who send their children to neighboring or nearby school districts were furious with Cortines’ change in the transfer policy.
Lynda Mitsakos, who has lived in Playa del Rey for 22 years, obtained an inter-transfer permit for her daughter Meriel, a freshman, to Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, largely because of the school’s swimming team. She and other parents were taken by surprise by the February decision to change the transfer policy.
“If I have to, I’ll move my business to Manhattan Beach to allow my daughter to continue to go to school there,” Mitsakos, a graphics designer, vowed.
LAUSD has the authority over incoming permits for students seeking to enter the district from their school district of residence as well as the final say in issuing inter-district transfers.
LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, Venice, Del Rey and Westchester, is crafting a proposal that would allow ninth grade students to receive an extension that would enable them to continue at the school of their choice.
“They would be given an extension to stay at their current high schools,” Sharon Delugach, Zimmer’s chief of staff, explained. “Even though the school board directed the superintendent to find as much money as possible to close the deficit, Steve feels that students should not have their high school careers interrupted.”
Delugach said Zimmer’s plan would come before the board in April.
Melinda Goodall, principal at Loyola Village Elementary School in Westchester, said she is willing to give new students and parents who might opt to attend their neighborhood schools a tour of Loyola Village.
“I would be pleased to welcome parents and students to our school,” said Goodall, whose school posted an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 823 last year, 23 points higher than the baseline score that state education officials have set.
Loyola Village will host a “Tea and Tour” for kindergarten classes and tours for grades one through five in April.
Mitsakos said she applied to Pacific Palisades Charter High School and a few other charter schools before settling on Mira Costa, but her daughter, who has attended private school throughout her academic life, was not accepted at any of them.
“Meriel also sings in the choir and she’s made friends there,” her mother said. “She’s really thriving at Mira Costa.”
For parents requesting an exception to district policy, the district is obligated to provide a mechanism to hear appeals, district officials say. Appeals will first be considered internally. If they are denied, parents have the right to take their case to the Los Angeles County Office of Education for a final decision.
Mitsakos said she would appeal Cortines’ decision if the board does not accept Zimmer’s proposal. But if it is denied, she remains steadfast that her daughter would not attend her neighborhood school, Westchester High School, which does not have a swimming team.
“My daughter is happy where she is,” Mitsakos said. “Do (the district and the school board) understand the impact that a blanket approval like this can have?”
Zimmer is traveling in Washington D.C. and could not be reached for comment.