Piedmont school officials, faced with a new state open enrollment law, are evaluating the implications of allowing more transfer students from other districts. School Board President Roy Tolles opened the board's on the subject Tuesday night by saying interdistrict attendance was a "big issue".
The Piedmont Unified School District has long enrolled students who live outside Piedmont. Currently, 190 interdistrict transfer students go to school here—most are the children of district employees (131), with Millennium High School students being the second largest contingent (36).
California's Open Enrollment Act (a.k.a. the "Romero Bill"), passed in April 2010, now compels the district to also enroll students who apply from lower performing schools, so long as there's room and it doesn't pose an adverse financial impact to the district.
That prompted the school board to take another look at transfer policies and inspired requests for PUSD to allow other non-resident groups, like the , to apply for enrollment.
The potential financial impact of enrolling a transfer student varies, Superintendent Connie Hubbard explained Tuesday, depending on the scenario.
The school district typically spends about $11,000 per student annually—$6,000 of that comes from state and federal funding and, for resident students, the other $5,000 comes from local revenues including parcel taxes and fund-raising campaigns.
So long as a transfer student didn't trip class size limits requiring the hire of an additional teacher or require pricey special education services, the $6,000 from state and federal sources would likely be sufficient to support that student, and could even be a small boon for the district.
"The same child in different scenarios could add money to the bottom line or cost money," Hubbard said.
If the number of transfer students requires the addition of a teacher, that could also mean an additional program offering that would benefit Piedmont students. For example, allowing transfer students enabled PUSD to create with an alternative curriculum that the district wouldn't otherwise have the critical mass to accommodate.
That got school board member Ray Gadbois thinking. PUSD has already outlined what its capacity is in terms of student-teacher ratios, but what about the number of classrooms?
Hubbard said that the elementary schools are full up, generally speaking, but Piedmont Middle School could fit about another 50 kids, and Piedmont High School about another 100.
But Assistant Superintendent Randy Booker, who was the principal of PHS until July 1, emphasized the preference for students transferring in at the lower grades, as the majority do now, to help ensure they can keep up with Piedmont's program.
If a transfer student is not prepared for the rigors of PHS, Booker said, "it can even be a social problem, because the typical social norm in Piedmont High School is high academic achievement."
While Open Enrollment Act applications, which would get priority, can't be assessed based on a student's previous academic achievement, discretionary transfers could be, said attorney Jan Tomsky, so long as the district's policy on assessment was non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary.
"It's a matter of risks, but there's also rewards," said Bill Drum, who was among several who stepped up to the podium Tuesday to petition the school board to allow their grandchildren in. "I think grandchildren of legacies [who had gone to school in Piedmont], or grandparents in Piedmont, is very low risk."
A former census worker, Drum was also among several who said they would volunteer to help survey seniors in Piedmont to find out how many of their grandchildren might want to enroll.
Alicia Elliot also made an appeal on behalf of PAINTS, which supports arts education in Piedmont schools, to extend transfer benefits to the children of art specialists to help alleviate high turnover.
Wayne Lyons urged the board to make a decision sooner rather than later.
"These kids grow up and I don't want this decision to be something that takes five years or six years," Lyons said. "We need to know now."
Tolles said the school board was still in the information gathering phase, but promised that requests for the district to open up applications for enrollment would be acted upon at a future meeting and invited more feedback via email.