Friday, March 12, 2010


by Nick Taborek | Santa Monica Daily Press
March 12, 2010 -- SMMUSD HDQTRS — Already dealing with state cuts to education and facing a $14 million budget gap, local public school officials learned this week they will have to grapple with the effect of a revenue grab by a neighboring school district.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines last month directed his staff to begin restricting the number of permits issued to students who live in LAUSD territory but wish to attend school in another public school system.

The policy change would mean as many as 80 percent of the 12,250 students who receive permits to attend school outside of LAUSD would have to return to their home district, Cortines said in a memo dated Feb. 16. Because the school district receives a per-pupil payment from the state, the change is expected to net LAUSD $51 million, he said.

At the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where 1,227 students attend district schools on permits but live within LAUSD’s boundaries, officials said they were concerned losing a significant number of students could further impact the district’s already strained finances.

Superintendent Tim Cuneo said he learned of LAUSD’s decision over the weekend and was still overseeing an analysis of how the policy change will impact local schools.

Edison Language Academy could be hit the hardest given that 176 of the 433 students live within LAUSD’s boundaries.

“The timing of it makes it very difficult for everyone,” Cuneo said, noting that the district’s board made decisions about next year’s staffing levels before learning about LAUSD’s new permit policy, which could result in hundreds of students leaving the district.

He said he had spoken with Cortines and planned to meet with superintendents of other Westside districts that stand to be significantly impacted. District staff, he said, will hold meetings with groups of parents whose children receive permits.

In his memo last month, Cortines said there will be two exceptions to LAUSD’s new permit policy.

The district will continue to grant permits “to allow students to attend a school or district in the area of a parent’s physical work location,” he said. The district also will continue to grant permits to students in order to allow them to finish the final year of classes at their current school. (For example, a student entering her senior year of high school would be eligible for a permit under this exemption.)

Cuneo said it was unclear exactly how many SMMUSD students might be eligible for one of the exemptions. But according to district records he said 420 students have a parent who works for either Santa Monica College, the city of Santa Monica or SMMUSD.

Students who don’t receive permits to leave LAUSD are eligible to appeal permit decisions to the district, and then to the county office of education.

In a statement, LAUSD said there could be double the normal amount of appeals because of the new policy.

“The LAUSD, like other school districts, is looking to retain our students and the revenue from those students so we can provide the highest level of service and support possible,” the statement said.

SMMUSD Chief Financial Officer Jan Maez said there was not yet an estimate of how much LAUSD’s new permit policy could cost the district in lost Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding. She said the district receives about $5,600 per pupil from Sacramento.

“There’s a great deal of concern on both the long term funding and just on the impact to children and their families,” she said.

Maez said SMMUSD will receive ADA funding for next year based on this year’s attendance figures, so lower enrollment won’t immediately disrupt the district’s budget.

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