Under pressure from angry parents and concerned contiguous school districts, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education has retreated from its earlier decision to disallow students from transferring to other areas to attend school.

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced to the board at its Tuesday, April 6th meeting that he had reconsidered altering the district’s inter-transfer policy after consulting with the county superintendent of education and hearing from upset parents who came to address the board about the change in transfer procedures.

“I’d like to make it perfectly clear that LAUSD has made great strides in improving the educational options for students who reside within the boundaries of our school district,” Cortines told the board. “We have award-winning magnet programs, a number of California Distinguished schools, and campuses with small learning communities and personalized instruction.

“However, to minimize the impact on students, I have asked staff to delay implementation of the new district-wide procedure. This will provide us with ample time to review the reasons for requests for transfers, analyze them and respond with solutions that may cause parents to reexamine the various educational options and opportunities that LAUSD has to offer,” he said.

Last month, Cortines notified parents and LAUSD employees that the district would no longer allow students to attend schools outside LAUSD boundaries after the board asked him to seek other approaches to help close its $640 million budget deficit. The nation’s second largest school district plans to lay off teachers and other district employees, as well as implement furlough days to reduce its shortfall.

“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,” the superintendent 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. Effec- tive immediately, LAUSD will only offer two types of permits: parent employment and senior status.

“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.”

School districts in Santa Monica, Culver City and others were facing the prospect of losing students due to the change in LAUSD policy regarding transfer students. Some school board members of adjacent districts had asked that students studying in their school districts be exempted and not be forced to return to LAUSD, which they would be required to do under the former proposal.

Oscar de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified District Board of Education, said there would be serious ramifications on the continuity of a student’s education if LAUSD had proceeded with its original proposal.

“What I would like to see is a total grandparenting of all of our students, so that they will be allowed to complete their education in the district of their choice,” de la Torre said prior to the LAUSD board meeting.

Third District County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also weighed in on the student transfer controversy. The supervisor, whose district includes Santa Monica, authored a resolution at the March 30th board meeting urging LAUSD to reconsider its new policy.

“The Los Angeles Unified School District, like all school districts in the Los Angeles area, is experiencing significant budget deficits. However, the proposed plan is punitive and detrimental to the students and families who currently have inter-district permits,” the motion states. “Such a blanket directive will have a negative impact on the welfare of those children as well as on their educational experience and social success.”

“A more thoughtful transition that takes into consideration the needs of the student and their families is warranted,” Yaroslavsky’s motion continues. “While some revision to the inter-district policy to address the budget deficit may be appropriate, students who currently have permits should be permitted to complete their education at the elementary, middle or high school they are currently attending.”

LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, who represents Venice, Westchester, Playa del Rey and Del Rey in District 4, was set to offer a proposal at the meeting that would allow pupils in high school with permits outside LAUSD to continue their education at their current high schools.

“My proposal exempts all high school students,” Zimmer told The Argonaut during the opening of a learning garden at Westside Leadership Magnet School last month. “I don’t want to disrupt any child’s education, but high school’s different. It could affect your entire future, and we can’t let high school students be the victims of our budget crisis.”

Based on Cortines’ statements at the meeting, Zimmer said he decided to withdraw his proposal.

District officials previously admitted that there is a strong financial incentive to bring back as many students as possible.

“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 in an interview last month.

But de la Torre says that a student’s access to a good education cannot be measured in dollars.

“I understand what LAUSD needs to do (regarding its budget problems), but these students are more than just numbers,” said de la Torre, whose district is facing an estimated $14 million budget gap.

Last year, LAUSD allowed 12,249 students to transfer to other school districts and accepted 1,931.

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 school district’s decision to change the transfer policy. Mitsakos, a graphics designer who attended the meeting, was pleasantly surprised by the decision.

“We are relieved and grateful,” she said. “I think it took a lot of courage for (Cortines) to reconsider his decision, and I’m really grateful.”

Robert Alaniz, LAUSD’s communication director, said most of the transfer permits are expected to be approved for the 2010-2011 school year. Cortines is expected to return in September with a revised policy regarding inter-district transfers.

“The timing will be better for planning purposes,” he said.

Alaniz said the district will now be forced to look at other ways to recoup the $50 million that it would have gained from halting the transfers.

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