By Carla Rivera | L.A. Times
posted: April 6, 2010 | 8:53 p.m.
April 7, 2009 -- Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said Tuesday that most students who attend schools outside of the district can continue to do so next year, a retreat from a recent, more restrictive policy that provoked an outcry from parents, other school districts and some members of his own Board of Education.
But whether students who live in the Los Angeles Unified School District will be allowed to continue to attend schools elsewhere after the 2010-11 school year remains unresolved. Cortines said he expects to return to the board in September with a new policy. He said he will assess, among other things, why families are rejecting L.A. Unified for what they consider better options.
Speaking at a packed board meeting, Cortines said he had consulted with parents, other local superintendents and district lawyers, and concluded that the district had been neither clear nor consistent in handing out permits.
Applause erupted when Cortines announced that most students will continue receiving permits for next year. "I'm not knowingly going to harm the education of boys and girls and young people or distress the adults in their lives," he said.
Cortines said permits probably will also be granted to students applying for the first time to attend specialized programs not available in the district or facing other hardships. And he said a new appeals process will be created for students denied permits. The Los Angeles County Office of Education will be the final arbiter.
It was a far more conciliatory response than the schools chief's recent remarks arguing that L.A. Unified schools had vastly improved and accusing many parents of seeking schools with fewer poor and minority students.
Last year, L.A. Unified released more than 12,200 students to 99 other Southern California school districts, including 945 to Beverly Hills, 1,700 to Torrance, 1,400 to Culver City and 1,400 to Las Virgenes.
L.A. Unified could receive $51 million in state per-pupil funding if 80% of those students returned. That money could be used to help close a $640-million budget shortfall, officials said.
In February, Cortines moved to limit the permits to students whose parents work within the boundaries of another district and to those completing fifth, eighth or 12th grades next year.
The decision provoked a furor among parents, who argued that their local schools are lower-performing and have fewer specialized programs, and that changing districts would disrupt their children's education. They also complained that the announcement had come too late for them to find alternatives such as magnet or charter schools.
On Tuesday, board member Steve Zimmer applauded Cortines for addressing parents' concerns.
"I know the board will use this time carefully, to shore up areas where we need to make improvements and create programs where currently there are no programs," Zimmer said.
With board member Tamar Galatzan, Zimmer had proposed allowing high school students to remain in their schools of choice until graduation. He withdrew the resolution after the superintendent's announcement.
Many parents said they were encouraged by Cortines' decision but remain concerned about the future.
"We hope it's not just an attempt to postpone everything and next year everything will have changed again," said Simona Montanari, a Lakeview Terrace resident whose daughter attends a dual-language immersion program at Franklin Elementary in the Glendale Unified School District.
Other school districts faced significant losses if L.A. Unified refused to allow students to attend their schools, said Karlo Silbiger, a member of the Culver City Unified Board of Education.
"Twenty percent of our kids are on L.A. Unified permits, and we'd be forced to close schools," he said. "This gives us time to figure out how to deal with this issue."