School district seeks student exemptions from LAUSD take-back policy

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More than 100 Malibu students could be affected by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision to bar most students living within LAUSD boundaries from attending schools in other districts. The policy could affect approximately 12,000 students throughout the county.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

With a large number of students in danger of being forced out of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the district at risk of a great financial loss, Superintendent Tim Cuneo is preparing a proposal to exempt current SMMUSD students and their siblings from a recently enacted Los Angeles Unified School District policy to restrict interdistrict permits. Cuneo said at last Thursday’s Board of Education meeting that he had spoken with LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who has agreed to consider the proposal.

The LAUSD policy calls for an end to most permits allowing children living within its boundaries to attend schools in other districts. Its purpose is to bring more money into the LAUSD, which is facing a $640 million budget shortfall. A school district’s income from Sacramento is based on daily attendance, and LAUSD officials say the new policy would mean an extra $51 million for the district.

It would also mean a high seven-figure dollar loss for the SMMUSD. However, since Sacramento money to school districts is based on attendance from the previous school year, this policy would not affect the SMMUSD financially until the 2011-12 school year.

More than 1,200 students living within the LAUSD boundaries are attending SMMUSD schools, including 121 in Malibu. This includes 89 at Malibu High and Middle schools, 19 at Juan Cabrillo Elementary, eight at Webster Elementary and five at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary. Some of those students could be exempt from the LAUSD policy because it does not apply to those with parents working within the district the student wants to attend and those already in a non-LAUSD district who are entering the fifth, eighth or 12th grades, the final years of each school level. Cuneo said in an interview on Monday that he did not know how many Malibu students would meet the LAUSD’s exemption. He said district staff is currently researching the matter.

Cuneo said many of the students on permits in the SMMUSD have been going to schools in this district for several years. “It would be really tragic for them to complete the balance of their education at a brand new school,” he said.

There was similar reaction from Board of Education members during last week’s meeting. Several board members said they were troubled by the LAUSD policy. Board member Oscar de la Torre said he would like the board to make a formal resolution in opposition to it at a future meeting.

“This is one community, one school community,” de la Torre said. “And we want to make sure we do everything we can to protect those students and those families to continue their education in our schools.”

Shari Davis, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council, said the council voted unanimously to oppose the LAUSD policy because of the impact it would have on the children and their parents.

“We believe such directives will have a detrimental impact on the welfare of those children, on parental involvement in our school communities, and on the educational experience and success of these students academically, and in other important pursuits that constitute a well-rounded education,” Davis said.

Those denied interdistrict permits from the LAUSD could appeal the decision to the LAUSD. If that appeal is denied, an appeal can be filed with the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). With more than 12,000 students affected by the LAUSD policy countywide, LACOE could be overwhelmed with appeals.

“They’re attempting to try to gear up and figure out how to even manage all that,” Cuneo said.

Cuneo said in the Monday interview that appeals could be backed up into next school year. Students will be allowed to attend SMMUSD schools while their appeals are pending.

Board member Jose Escarce said parents wanting to keep their children in the SMMUSD would have a good case based on the issue of “continuity of education.” Cuneo said the use programs provided by the SMMUSD that are not offered in the LAUSD, such as the language immersion program at Edison Language Academy in Santa Monica, is also an argument that can be made in an appeal.

Information on the LAUSD policy and the rights of those affected by it, including how to file an appeal, can be found online at www.smmusd.org. To access the information, click “Permit Appeal” at the top left side of the site. Informational letters have also been mailed to interdistrict parents.

The LAUSD policy was initially approved with little fanfare at a Board of Education meeting last month. It was formalized last week. The news did not reach other districts until earlier this month. Various districts are now scrambling to address the issue on a tight timeline.