Open Alternative School lost 75 students in two years when the Santa Barbara Unified School District closed its boundaries to outside transfers, from which it hasn’t been able to recover.

Families want out-of-district transfers again to boost enrollment, which would impact the amount of funding and parental participation the school receives.

District board members banned inter-district transfers in 2008 because of funding concerns and the school is located within the Hope Elementary District, since it’s housed on La Colina Junior High School’s campus.

At Tuesday night’s SBUSD board meeting, Open Alternative School Foundation president Marc Chytilo asked the board for an exception to transfer rules so the school can build up its enrollment. He said the school dropped from 10 to five classrooms, and from 250 to 131 kids, over the past few years.

Open Alternative School’s progressive education model has a lot of family and community involvement, so the loss of students means a big loss of support on all levels, he said.

Parents asked for a change to district policy or at least the go-ahead to start expanding gradually with 15 transfers per year for five years, funneling them in at the K-1 level. Every class in the K-8 school is a multi-grade classroom right now.

Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Dave Cash said he’s been suggesting marketing methods for three years so the school could improve enrollment. Charter schools have to do the same thing, since they’re schools of choice.

Chytilo said the school is recruiting and holding open houses, but about 40 percent of interested students are from other districts. Parents worry they can’t get enough students without taking transfers.

Board members were sympathetic since the district policy created the problem, but worried about changing the transfer policies at all, let alone for just one school. They took no action on Tuesday night, but most likely will make a decision in February.

Closing the boundaries was “horribly traumatic” for everyone, board president Kate Parker recalled. She was one of two current members, along with Ed Heron, on the board when the transfer policy was approved. No matter what happens, she said, she doesn’t want any school to have to go through that and kick out students again.

There was some support for a limited expansion, such as a pilot program or maybe the 15 students per year that parents proposed.

“We’ve fallen short on coming up with solutions,” board member Monique Limon said.

The board does want the school to keep a ratio of mostly in-district students, though.

The school’s location is a big concern; since it’s within another elementary district, families living across the street can’t send their children to that school. 

“The whole premise is we want neighborhood schools, but we put you in a location where you can’t be that,” Heron said. “It seems strange that we would do that.”

Parents, teachers and students packed the Tuesday night meeting and supported the school’s efforts to bring in outside students. One parent said families should get to attend because of their progressive education philosophy, not geographical location.

Parents lauded the school for being inclusive and the perfect fit for their children.

“Without OAS I don’t know what I would have done,” Sadie Stern said.

When her daughter was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, she said, the former school wanted to put her in a different classroom due to her eye tic. She said the family moved her to OAS, where the inclusive philosophy helped her thrive in general education classrooms with all the other students.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at