Glendale Unified officials Wednesday were called on once again to answer questions regarding the magnet designations and modified enrollment procedures at three local elementary schools during a special meeting hosted by the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Assn.
Last year the district applied for and received a three-year, $7.5-million magnet grant to enhance existing language programs and to develop additional education themes at Keppel, Edison and Franklin elementary schools. Accepting the federal dollars meant the district would also have to accept federal enrollment guidelines, blurring traditional geographic boundaries for the three campuses.
Glendale Unified and out-of-district families were required to complete an application and enter a lottery process — initiated last week — in order to secure a spot. Written into the grant is a tiered set of priorities that guarantees no Glendale child would be displaced by a child who lives in another district.
But even as Assistant Supt. John Garcia announced that Glendale Unified anticipated accommodating all local families at their first- or second-choice schools, some community members said at the meeting Wednesday that they still have questions about the purpose of the grant, the lottery system and potential long-term impacts to neighborhoods and property values.
Attendees pressed administrators on why they chose Keppel, Edison and Franklin for the grant as opposed to elementary schools in north or south Glendale. They also questioned the order of enrollment priorities, the potential for increased traffic and a shift away from traditional neighborhood schools.
Glendale Unified did an insufficient job communicating with residents about the changes, said Peter Fuad, president of the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Assn.
“If I get a letter from the city of Glendale on a roof remodel, surely having a lottery system for my neighborhood school merits that,” Fuad said.
Tammi Relyea, also a member of the association and the mother of an incoming kindergartner, said she too was caught off guard. And while her child has a spot in September, Glendale families next year may face tougher odds if the popularity of the magnet schools increases.
“For families like myself who are now trying to enroll our child, there was no discussion of the lottery,” Relyea said. “It was an absolute shock to a lot of families in my situation … Most families are not thinking about enrolling their kids in January versus March.”
School officials conceded that they could have done a better job communicating with stakeholders, but maintained that the benefits of the grant outweigh the challenges.
“This is an opportunity for us to survive through very tough economic times,” said school board President Greg Krikorian. “This grant is awesome.”
Other parents said they fully backed the magnet designations, and said it was just a matter of time before the community adjusted.
Tony Iezza, who lives within the Keppel boundaries, said his daughter attended Hamilton High School, a Los Angeles Unified magnet school, and had a wonderful experience.
He bought a condominium in Los Angeles near the school where she stayed during the week. The school was so successful that it enhanced the entire neighborhood, and the condo more than doubled in value during her four years there, Iezza said.
Other proponents said they liked being able to chose from several strong and diverse options.
“I feel like it is my job as a parent to find out what is going on around me first, and not expect people to educate me,” said parent Joan Zierhut. “I expect to educate everybody else.”
Supt. Richard Sheehan noted that Glendale Unified is facing a steady decline in enrollment compounded by deep cuts in state funding. As such, school officials are continually searching for opportunities to bring in additional revenue, and the magnet grant was one such opportunity.
Enhancing programs at Keppel, Edison and Franklin helps the district retain its own students and attract students from other districts, Garcia said. And the grant mirrors a greater shift in education — four years ago Glendale Unified issued 825 inter-district permits, Garcia said.
This year there are 1,450 Glendale Unified students attending a school outside their geographically prescribed school boundaries, a 73% increase.
“There is a phenomenon happening where people are demanding more choice in their children’s education,” Garcia said. “People are looking at other options, not just private schools anymore.”