Student District-Hopping Costs Compton $5 Million : Transfers Drain Schools' Money, Morale

Times Staff Writer

Anthony Ford, a muscular student-athlete, was almost a statistic.

Had he not changed his mind, he would have been one of an estimated 2,500 former Compton students who attend school, both legally and illegally, in neighboring cities.

The students' departures, officials say, cost Compton Unified School District more than $5 million annually and reinforce the perception that schools here are not as good as others nearby.

They also are an ongoing cause of dispute among many school districts that have tried with mixed success to solve the educational problems spawned by district-hopping students.

Changed His Plans

"When I was coming out of junior high school, I wasn't going to go to Compton either," said Ford, a sprinter and long jumper, after finishing a workout at the Compton High School track last Friday.

"There were a lot of good football players who were with me in junior high who went on to Lynwood and Carson," he said. "A lot of them have relatives in other cities and they just go by their addresses."

Ford, who stayed at Compton High because of a respected track coach, named two former Compton students who still live here but attend high school in Carson. Another athlete mentioned a pair of sisters who had lived across the street from Compton High but moved so they could attend a Long Beach high school.

Student Brought Back

Varsity basketball Coach Eddie Thomas told of a youngster whose phony Lynwood address had been discovered and who had been returned to Compton High.

Others offered more names of students, both athletes and non-athletes, who have left Compton schools in recent years. They have left in a number of ways, some legal and some not, Compton officials maintain.

Some students simply move with their families, while many move in with relatives in other cities. A few dozen others obtain hard-to-get interdistrict transfers. All three ways are legal. A fourth method--giving an address at which the student does not really live--is illegal.

Officials at neighboring districts said they do everything in their power to prohibit illegal transfers but conceded that there is little that can be done to prevent students when they move legally from one district to another.

School Loses 3 Ways

The departure of hundreds of youngsters by whatever means can sap a district of some of its best students and their supportive parents, and in the long run lower teachers' expectations of the students who remain, said Compton Supt. Ted Kimbrough.

In addition, each student departure will cost the 27,000-student Compton Unified School District $2,180 in state money this school year.

Attendance dollars for just seven of those students could have paid the $15,000 salary of a first-year Compton teacher. And, if all 2,500 students who are said to have left for nearby districts had stayed, the Compton district's $93-million annual budget could have been about $5.5 million greater.

Parents Sending Message

But they didn't stay--and Supt. Charlie Mae Knight of Lynwood, whose district Kimbrough has criticized for not doing all it can to identify Compton students who transfer improperly, said disgruntled parents are sending a message to many school districts.

"Those of us who work here in the inner city have found that parents will sell their souls for quality education," she said. "If we think for a moment that we can offer poor-quality education and stuff it down their throats, we're wrong. What we have to do is improve the quality of education so there won't be an exodus."

Lynwood Rolls Climb

Enrollment in the Lynwood district, which, like Compton, is primarily low income and minority, has increased from 10,000 to 12,800 during the last four years. The increase reflects a dramatic jump in the Latino population of the city, said Bob Jones, attendance director for Lynwood schools. Knight attributed the rise in enrollment to increased confidence by parents in the Lynwood schools.

Knight acknowledged that Lynwood to some degree has had the same problem as Compton, losing white students to predominantly white districts and some black athletes to suburban schools. The recruiting of talented high school athletes by coaches from schools in other districts has been reported repeatedly in recent years.

Shifts Are Widespread

Knight said shifts in student residency are widespread. "We're not the only ones getting Compton football players," she said. "That's the biggest racket going."

Kimbrough, the Compton superintendent, said disenchanted parents are reacting to false impressions, and that curriculum and instruction at schools in neighboring communities are no better than that at Compton's three high schools and eight junior highs.

"A lot of this stuff is just perceptions," said Kimbrough, a former administrator for the Los Angeles school district. "That's one of the things that drives kids from public schools to private schools. It's a phenomenon that takes place particularly in the urban setting."

Perceptions Harmful

In much the same way, Los Angeles' inner-city schools lose students to their more affluent neighbors, he said. And, accurate or not, parents' perceptions can hurt the quality of education for students who remain.

Studies show that children who move to another school seeking better education tend to be good students from stable and supportive homes, he said, and their departures leave a void.

"You don't get that balance (of students) you're looking for," Kimbrough said. "It has an effect on expectations of student performance over a long period of time."

The effect of the student defections wears on instructors as well, he added. "When you know you have some good kids coming up and you look forward to them and then they're not there, that's demoralizing to teachers."

Some Courses Canceled

Jean Curtis, president of the Compton teachers' union, said that the greatest impact of declining high school enrollment has been a cutback in some college preparatory courses, such as advanced math and foreign languages. Compton has had a teacher shortage for years, so lower enrollment has not caused teacher layoffs, she said.

That Compton is, in fact, losing more than its share of secondary students is a problem that is difficult to document, because most school districts do not keep such figures, said Los Angeles County schools analyst Jack Erikson.

Kimbrough said his estimate of 2,500 missing students is drawn from a analysis of lists of students who were expected to continue their education in Compton but did not. He took into account usual factors of attrition, such as student dropouts.

Departure on Commencement

Compton's enrollment figures for the last seven years support Kimbrough's conclusion that many students are leaving the district upon graduation from elementary and junior high schools.

Enrollment of elementary students here has remained at about 16,000 since 1978-79, but junior high enrollment has dropped from 7,592 to 6,474, and high school enrollment is down from 5,864 to 4,120.

Enrollment has not dropped at all of Compton's secondary schools, however. Dominguez High School has 1,600 students, the same as four years ago. Compton High's enrollment has dropped from 2,549 to 1,396 and Centennial High's is down from 1,466 to 1,066.

School Drew Students

However, a Compton junior high school provides a classic example of students being drawn to a single school for educational reasons. By 1983, under the leadership of former Principal Lawrence Freeman, Willowbrook Junior High had lured 300 to 400 students from other school districts by emphasizing strict discipline and basic education, Compton officials said.

Willowbrook's popularity sparked protests from Lynwood and Los Angeles school administrators. And Compton responded by sending those students back to their legitimate districts, Kimbrough said.

More recently, Compton has asked for similar help, but, Kimbrough said, "I did not get proportionate numbers back. It's a fight for ADA (average daily attendance money). Lynwood has students who belong in Compton, so does Long Beach and Los Angeles; they have the lion's share. And Inglewood has some."

Other Districts Criticized

Kimbrough was critical of Lynwood and Los Angeles, which includes Banning, Carson and Gardena high schools. He said he wasn't sure what kind of cooperation his district had received from Long Beach and Inglewood.

Lynwood's Knight insisted that her district has cooperated fully, checking addresses of each new student and every "guardianship" application to make sure the student is living with a relative or a certified foster parent. "We've been pretty tough because we've been so overcrowded," she said.

Jones, the Lynwood attendance director, said he did not believe a significant number of Lynwood students are from Compton. "I hate to hear people make accusations they can't support. I've told (Compton officials) that before. If they know they have students over here, they ought to come over to the classrooms and point them out."

Principal Well Liked

Knight added that Kimbrough's effectiveness in returning students from Willowbrook last year was in part because of the departure of Freeman, who is now principal at Inglewood High School.

"If Larry Freeman had remained there, I think he would have had greater difficulty getting those parents (to send their children) back," she said. "What (Freeman) has done is unbelievable. If you look closely at Inglewood, I think you'll find that Compton kids are there because they're following Dr. Freeman. Some of our kids are there too. Any place these parents think there is quality, they will go."

Henry Jensen, coordinator of attendance for Los Angeles' schools, also said he had done everything he could to make sure students from Compton do not attend school in his district illegally.

Residency Double-Checked

After a request by Compton in fall 1983, he double-checked the residency of perhaps 20 students, Jensen said, and several were returned to Compton schools. He received no similar request in fall 1984, Jensen said. Compton officials confirmed that they did not make such a request last fall.

Sara Ray, director of attendance for Compton, said Jensen has been cooperative. But her request that Los Angeles provide her with a list of students from Compton who have filed guardianship papers has been fruitless, she said.

Long Beach schools spokesman Dick Van Der Laan also insisted that his district polices against illegal attendance and returned 296 students with false addresses to their former districts in 1983-84.

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