Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 6:57 am | Overcast 52º


Santa Barbara District Closes the Door on Transfer Students

The 3-2 decision to restrict enrollment to locals only exempts next year's sixth-graders, as well as their siblings and some children of district employees.

In a cost-saving move that put parents in tears, the Santa Barbara school board voted Tuesday night to close the doors on the vast majority of students who commute to Santa Barbara’s elementary campuses from Goleta, Carpinteria, Ventura and anywhere else outside the city limits.

The 3-2 decision exempts students who next year will be in sixth grade, as well as their siblings and some children of district employees. All told, it denies access to an estimated 180 students. Trustees Annette Cordero, Susan Deacon and Kate Parker voted for the ban, while trustees Ed Heron and Bob Noel voted against it.

The cut was made in anticipation of a budget bruising that could soon befall the Santa Barbara Elementary District as a result of California’s historic $42 billion deficit. The package approved by legislators last week includes billions of dollars in education spending cuts.

Santa Barbara district officials say blocking so-called transfer students will save at least $493,000, mostly by laying off nine teachers who will no longer be needed as a result of the downsizing. Ironically, the move also will knock the 5,600-student elementary district into a rare and enviable funding status known as basic aid, in which the district enjoys more money per pupil than the vast majority of districts across California.

But Tuesday night, that logic was no consolation to the families who now must find new schools for their children and drop-off, pickup and child-care routines for themselves.

“I’m in the position of having to tell my 9-year-old daughter she can no longer see the friends she has known for five years,” said Michael Lazarovitz, whose child attends Santa Barbara Community Academy, 850 Portesuello Ave. “She can no longer attend the school that has become her family for five years.”

Some parents don’t intend to switch schools. Goleta resident Heather Wennergren, whose second-grade son attends Open Alternative School, 4025 Foothill Road, said her family is moving to Santa Barbara so he can stay put.

“Our family is absolutely, completely traumatized by this,” she said after the meeting. “We have checked into some alternatives, but there’s not a school that has the values and the educational philosophy” that Open Alternative provides.

The board’s decision will have a profound effect on Open Alternative, where a third of the 230 students are transfers.

Some argued that the board should wait until more word comes in on how the newly adopted state budget will play out. But trustees have said they are handcuffed by a March 15 deadline for sending teachers layoff notices.

“We’ve been at this long enough,” Cordero said. “If we waited to make a decision until we have definitive budget numbers, we would never make a decision.” She added: “The idea that things (relating to the economy) are going to get better goes against any prediction anybody is making at this time.”

Noel, however, said he had a problem with dumping so many students the moment doing so becomes financially advantageous.

“I’m just not prepared tonight to make a decision,” he said, adding that he would prefer to make the cuts from administrative salaries.

Countering Noel, other trustees noted that failing to deny the transfer students would have a deleterious effect on at least as many other students who live within the boundaries. They said the resulting harm would likely come in the form of larger class sizes and the elimination of programs.

Heron took issue with how the board, in his view, was drawing an arbitrary line by exempting sixth-graders, their siblings and the children of district employees. He said he would have preferred a recommendation that instead favored some of the valued programs and schools that could be hardest hit, such as Open Alternative and Washington School, 290 Lighthouse Road, which attracts many out-of-town students for its comprehensive gifted-and-talented program.

Tuesday’s decision also includes a provision stating the board will develop a policy allowing families to make an appeal to stay at any given school.

A district goes “basic aid” when the amount of property taxes it generates exceeds the minimum per-child amount mandated by the state. The vast majority of school districts in California do not generate enough property taxes to meet the minimum, which is currently around $5,500 per child annually.

Those that do collect enough property-tax dollars get to keep any spillover, however. In the single-school Montecito Union School District, an exceptionally wealthy district, property taxes generate about $23,000 per child annually. In its first year of basic aid, Santa Barbara will not have nearly that much money per child. In fact, the move barely puts the district into basic aid, meaning the amount of money per child will be only slightly above the state minimum.

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