Beverly Hills Blocks Outside Students
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
LOS ANGELES — In a contentious meeting ringed by police officers, the Beverly Hills school board voted Tuesday night to dismiss roughly 470 students enrolled in its schools on out-of-district permits.
The school system there has long opened its doors to students who live outside the district — currently about one in seven of its roughly 4,800 students — in large part because they brought a financial windfall for the system. But now, because cash-poor California has reduced local support to schools, including the reimbursements for out-of-district students, the so-called permit students are more of a burden to the schools than a boon.
Beverly Hills will soon use its own property tax dollars to finance its schools to replace money lost from the state. So the board voted to notify most of the out-of-district students that they must go.
“Although I recognize this is an inconvenience, it’s certainly not life or death,” said Steven Fenton, the board president. He added that for those who want to keep their children in the schools, “there are apartments waiting for you tomorrow.”
Most of the students now must choose between private schools or their local school under the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is largely troubled. “Go back to your home school to make it better,” Lisa Korbatov, the board’s vice president, admonished parents with children in the Beverly Hills schools on permits. “I don’t understand this entitlement.”
Only one board member, Myra Lurie, argued for all the children to fully matriculate. “What we’re doing here is a defining moment,” she said. A student representative on the board, Rachel Feinberg, did not take a position and instead read a poem decrying community infighting.
All five members voted for a new system, which will begin in the next school year, that will mean no children below high school age would be allowed to renew their permits, with the exception of seventh graders, who would be permitted to go on through eighth grade. All high school students would ostensibly be able to stay through graduation; an earlier plan had excluded ninth graders. The district will not permit new out-of-district permits; it will continue to extend them to children of district and city employees, some high school students from poor areas and children whose parents went to Beverly Hills schools and whose grandparents still live in the district.
“We are Beverly Hills and we can show some compassion,” Mr. Fenton said. Families could appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which has ultimate authority on transfer matters.
California reimburses the majority of public schools on a daily rate per child using a complex formula based on property tax rates. When the schools here were not able to fill their classrooms with local students, the state gave the system $6,239 per child this year for each student who came from out of the district. The school board members and some parents and Beverly Hills residents have maintained that the out-of-district students have gone from providing money to draining the system, and now cost the district roughly $2 million a year, according to the superintendent, a figure that parents of children on permits insist is wildly inflated. The district’s annual budget is about $62.5 million.
The meeting on Tuesday at Beverly Hills High School — which attracted a half-dozen police officers, a fire marshal and so many parents, students and community residents that an overflow room was needed to hold the crowds — was peppered with two and a half hours of impassioned testimony, largely from opponents including some of the children who would be removed under the plan. “If you kicked me out of my home,” said Amanda Christovich, a seventh grader. “I will be lost.” Two people in the audience were removed from the meeting for mocking a board member.
Lamenting the need for police officers — requested by the board members because the issue has become so heated — and saying the board’s decision smacked of “perverse elitism,” Robert K. Tanenbaum, the former mayor of Beverly Hills, said, “We made a commitment to these students, and we expect you to abide by that commitment.”
But some parents, citing what they see as entitlement among parents and students who attend the schools on the so-called opportunity permits, asserted that only Beverly Hills residents should benefit from services paid for with their tax dollars. “This is a community trying to take care of its own,” said Genevieve Peters, a resident and parent, “and there is nothing wrong with that.”