Districts brace as law allowing students to flee low-performing schools takes effect.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
In 2011, a new state law allows kids who attend failing neighborhood schools – as measured by standardized tests – to hop district boundaries and enroll in higher achieving schools beginning next August.
The so-called Romero law could shake things up on Monterey County campuses. High-performing schools like Carmel River or Tularcitos that spend $17,000 per year per student are located within short driving distances of Monterey Peninsula Unified schools like Ord Terrace, King and Highland, which spend less than half as much and consistently rank among the worst in the state.
Still, it won’t be easy for students to transfer to districts like Carmel or P.G., where per student spending is more than $13,000 per year and test scores are also high, because the law allows districts to reject students if their enrollment would strain budgets or if space is limited.
“I think there’s a real dilemma,” says Carmel Unified School District Superintendent Marvin Biasotti. “The Board and the administration are not unsympathetic to students who are looking for a fresh start. [Our] interest is to help children.” But Biasotti notes that an influx of kids from outside the district would cost too much, because most of Carmel’s relatively lavish per pupil spending comes from local property taxes, not from per student reimbursement from the state.
The same is true in P.G., according to Superintendent Ralph Porras.
“We have to be really cautious… we were looking to reduce staff last year,” Porras says. The layoffs were forestalled, but money is still tight. “That’s the primary focal point: finances.”
“It’s fair to say we’ll accept relatively few,” Biasotti notes.
By contrast, the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, which receives most of its funding from the state, is accepting inter-district transfer applications to relatively high-performing schools like Monterey High, where students have sought them in the past, says administrator Debbi D’Angelo. Both P.G. and Carmel will begin accepting applications in June for the 2011-12 school year.
But so far, Carmel, P.G. and MPUSD report few inquiries about the Romero law, and it’s unclear whether parents understand their transfer rights.
MPUSD, which was required to notify parents at Ord Terrace, Highland and King of the law, did not provide a copy of that notice before the Weekly’s deadline.
The Carmel school board plans to finalize its inter-district transfer policy at its Jan. 13 meeting.
“You can’t be arbitrary or capricious,” Biasotti says. For example, it’s illegal to accept only the best athletes or gifted students. The law also prohibits rejections based on academic achievement, physical condition, English proficiency or family income.
The Carmel district does plan to bar kids who have been expelled from school, or suspended for more than two days in the past two years.
Students at 16 county schools are eligible for the transfers. The schools are: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy, Jesse G. Sanchez Elementary, Loma Vista Elementary, Sherwood Elementary, La Paz Middle and Santa Rita Elementary in Salinas; Chualar Elementary, Gonzales High, Vista Verde Middle, Chalone Peaks Middle, Main Street Middle and San Antonio Elementary in South County; Castroville Elementary in the North County Unified School District; and Highland Elementary, King Elementary and Ord Terrace in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.