Jan 10 2012

School Board Candidates Discuss Issue 4: Criteria and Priorities For Open Enrollment

PCA posed a series of  six questions to candidates for the Piedmont School Board in the upcoming election on February 7. Following are their entire responses to Question #4.

 Open Enrollment:  The Romero Bill has recently been enacted allowing out-of-district students to transfer to the Piedmont school district from low-performing schools.  Acceptance is automatic if capacity is available.  What criteria and prioritization for enrollment in the Piedmont Unified School District should be given to the following groups: children of District employees, children of City employees, grandchildren of residents, students from under-performing schools?


Response by School Board Candidate Rick Raushenbush

Because this question relates to the inter-district transfer issue currently before the Board, I cannot take a firm position on this issue until after receiving additional information from staff and hearing public input and Board discussion.  However, speaking only for myself, and not for the Board, I can make the following observations.

The District’s legal obligation, and foremost responsibility, is to serve the children residing in our District.  Under the Romero Bill, students in identified low-performing schools may apply to a higher-performing school district, which must accept them if there is available capacity for additional students and it will not have an adverse financial impact.  Under state law, currently-enrolled students have priority over students applying under the Romero Bill, but otherwise students applying under the Romero Bill have priority over all non-resident students.  Under the Allen Bill, children of both District and City employees who are currently enrolled in Piedmont schools are legally entitled to remain there until graduation so long as a parent is employed in Piedmont.

PUSD’s “capacity” is determined not only by physical capacity, but by staffing ratios set in the District’s Guidelines for Enrollment Capacity.  The Guidelines reflect the District’s conclusion that lower class sizes help provide a high quality educational program.  A portion of local parcel tax revenue is designated for “maintaining small sizes.”

According to staff, “empty seats” do not exist in enough existing classes for additional students to complete the required K-12 curriculum within our existing Capacity Guidelines.  To add more students, the Board would have to either: (a) change our Capacity Guidelines to increase class sizes or (b) find both physical space and funding to add classes and teachers.  Increasing class size is contrary to staff’s educational recommendation and, at the least, would require considerable public discussion.  As for physical capacity, there is none at the elementary schools and it is uncertain if there is sufficient physical capacity at PMS or PHS.  Finally, even assuming physical capacity, the major cuts in State funding require the Board to carefully assess the risk of potential shortfalls in funding the necessary educational services for additional students.

I strongly support every student having access to a high quality public education, such as that offered by PUSD.  However, expanding capacity to serve out-of-district students must not degrade our District’s educational and fiscal ability to serve resident students.

Response by School Board Candidate Andrea Swenson

Enrollment of out of district children of School and City employees is predetermined by existing board policy. Children of  non-resident School District employees that work at least 30% can attend Piedmont schools. There are 14 slots available for children of non-resident full-time City employees. Until we see how many Romero Bill inter-district transfer requests are received this month we do not know how it may impact capacity.

The current interest in changing student capacity policies by allowing grandchildren of residents to attend Piedmont Schools stems from a common belief that increasing student capacity would bring needed financial support into the school district. The unfortunate reality is, it costs more to educate a Piedmont student than Piedmont receives through funding from the State of California. The shortfall is subsidized by generous parent and community responses to organized fundraising efforts. The only way to add capacity without creating additional cost to the School District budget is to add students in specific classes where there is existing space available. It is difficult to imagine a practical and equitable method of increasing capacity by limiting enrollment to situations where a specific class is undersized. Nevertheless, it is possible, we may, as a community, make the decision to allow grandchildren of Piedmont residents to attend Piedmont schools when the community is able or willing to bear the expense.

Response by School Board Candidate Sunny Bostrom

Transfer Students.  Criteria.
Piedmont children of divorcing parents stay
Grandchildren of tax paying residents
Children of city/district employees
Outsiders would be admitted based on competitive examinations similar to those administered to students who compete for a place at San Francisco’s Lowell High School.

We could explore the idea of saving some of our openings for students from foreign countries whose families would be willing to pay tuition.  Cal Berkeley is doing this.

Response from School Board Candidate Jon Elliott

I’ve been pushing for a broad public discussion of these issues for the past two years with very limited response from the District and current Board, so I can say there’s not yet any obvious answer. The fundamental question is: how many interdistrict transfers best serve education in Piedmont’s schools, and why?  We should never force the schools to exceed their “capacity,” but information  presented by District administrators has tended to confuse what that means.  One measure is student-teacher ratios to target how many children are in each classroom; I wouldn’t want to raise those ratios unless we had to.  A different measure is the physical capacity of the facilities, including whether there are available classrooms we could fill with additional students.  PHS once had 150 more students than now and PMS had 100 more, but District administrators recall that those high-water enrollments were too crowded.  They acknowledge there may be room for some additional students, but still haven’t analyzed how many would be too many.

Nearly 200 of the District’s 2500 students presently live outside Piedmont.  Most of these are children of District and City employees, and all but a few of the rest attend Millenium High.  Can the District benefit from more transfers, or is this already too many?  I strongly suspect that larger enrollments would enrich opportunities for all students by adding new courses or more sections in existing courses, something I’ve struggled with as a parent advocate at PMS and PHS.

Your question identifies different groups of non-resident students.  The District’s existing system provides nearly 150 spaces to District and City employees, and generally excludes the other groups.  The Romero Bill requires at least some access to students from failing schools, although nobody knows how many might apply — there’s been only one application in the last two years.  I also believe we should look for opportunities to admit some grandchildren of Piedmont residents, since we count on these grandparents to support our schools by voting for and paying parcel taxes.  I believe it would strengthen our community to give these grandparents a direct and ongoing connection with our schools.

I’ll continue to push for serious consideration of these questions, including whether we can identify a reasonable target for interdistrict transfers, and then set priorities and/or establish a lottery system to meet that target.

Response by School Board Candidate Sarah Pearson

I think this could be less of an issue than it seems because it’s not clear that Piedmont schools have excess capacity. In fact, due to diminishing State funding and an effort to continue to provide the same course offerings, class sizes have increased K-12. Many classrooms are operating over the capacity guidelines as currently stated on the district website.

If the school board decides to change the guidelines and increase capacity, it would mean increasing class sizes or adding classrooms, because currently all of the elementary schools and all of the rooms at PHS are in use. If and when it is decided to increase capacity, then we’d need to have the interesting discussion of priority.

The board would need to ensure that any change would not be a financial burden on the district, and also that it could be executed fairly.  I am interested in learning more but need detailed information to make an informed decision.


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