Every morning they slip across the border, hundreds of them, seeking better opportunities for their children than they would have back home.
They’re not illegal immigrants. They are middle-class parents in Volvo station wagons and minivans driving their children across the border between the Long Beach and Los Alamitos school districts.
In recent years, hundreds of Long Beach parents have used a loophole in school “inter-district transfer” rules to enroll their children in the smaller, more upscale--and largely Anglo--Los Alamitos Unified School District in Orange County. But this school year, the Long Beach Unified School District will try to halt that draining of students--and student-based state education money--to Los Alamitos.
The plug they intend to use is affordable child care for middle-class parents.
“We were losing a lot of kids” because of the lack of affordable child care in Long Beach, said Assistant Supt. Lewis Prilliman. He added, however, that the district’s plan to open child-care programs at 10 Long Beach district elementary schools is not designed to stop a perceived “white flight” from Long Beach to Los Alamitos, but rather to “provide better service to parents.”
The plan has raised some concerns about whether the same opportunities will be available to all Long Beach families--particularly those who live in the less prosperous, predominantly minority neighborhoods of central and west Long Beach.
“I would like to see equal types of services available to all families in Long Beach Unified,” said Roberto Uranga, chairman of the district’s Hispanic Advisory Committee.
The siphoning of district students began six years ago, when the Los Alamitos Unified School District, which includes Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and parts of Cypress, began offering a 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. child-care program for two dozen students at Los Alamitos Elementary School. The program was designed by Shirley Horn, a longtime teacher and principal in the 7,000-student district who is now a private consultant.
Since then, the Los Alamitos program has grown to 800 children districtwide. The program is much more than “just baby-sitting,” Horn said, offering children in kindergarten through eighth grade before- and after-school recreation, homework assistance, arts instruction, computer training and other activities. The cost is $2.50 per hour with 10 hours a week minimum, compared to the $300 or more per month charged by many private day-care facilities.
The Los Alamitos day-care program quickly became popular with many Long Beach parents, in part because it offered an entrance to the highly regarded Los Alamitos School District. Under Long Beach district transfer rules, parents are permitted to enroll their children in the school closest to their day-care provider, even if the school is in another district. So Long Beach parents would sign up their children for the Los Alamitos day-care program and then obtain an “inter-district transfer permit” to take their kids out of Long Beach schools and send them to Los Alamitos schools.
“It was never anyone’s intention to make the (child-care) program a drawing card from other school districts,” Horn said. However, she added, “It did turn out that way.”
During the 1992-93 school year, about 400 students who live in the Long Beach district were given permission to attend Los Alamitos schools, some because of the day-care provision and some because their parents work in the Los Alamitos district, another reason a transfer is permitted. In all, about 1,200 students from other school districts attend Los Alamitos schools.
The loss of 400 students from a 76,000-student district such as Long Beach may not seem significant, but it does cause the school district to lose about $4,000 per year for each student in state education funding. The child-care program, meanwhile, is self-supporting, with parents’ fees covering costs.
Although school officials say they do not track the racial make-up of their inter-district transfer students, the perception has been that many, perhaps most, of the Long Beach-to-Los Alamitos transfer students are Anglo. The Los Alamitos school district is about 75% Anglo, while the Long Beach district is 26% Anglo.
In what some people say was an effort to stop the “white flight” from Long Beach schools, last spring district officials started looking into setting up a day-care program similar to Los Alamitos’, so that parents could no longer argue that the nearest affordable quality child care was in that district.
The district hired Horn to set up the Long Beach program at 10 elementary schools, most of the them on the east side of the city: Birney, Bixby, Cleveland, Cubberly, Emerson, Henry, Lowell, MacArthur, Prisk and Signal Hill. After initial start-up costs of about $900,000, Prilliman said, the program is expected to be self-supporting within two years. The fees are the same as for the Los Alamitos program.
A number of parents and board member Jenny Oropeza questioned whether the district was right to establish a child-care program to benefit east Long Beach families, perhaps the most prosperous in the school system. Poor and middle-class families families in other parts of Long Beach probably need the service just as badly, Oropeza said.
“I have been assured this is just the first step,” Oropeza said.
“We have been approached by families throughout the school district about this program. We’re already hearing the rumblings, and I’m sure they will become louder.”
The school district offers a variety of child-care services to 2,200 students at about two-thirds of its elementary schools, spokesman Dick Van Der Laan said. Many of them are free to poor families and available at low cost to other parents.
But the district has not been able to provide the same kinds or levels of services in all places.
“There are still gaps,” Van Der Laan said. “There’s no question about it. We’re offering more child care than we have before, and we need to offer more than this.”
About 140 students already are enrolled in the new Long Beach program, which is called “Kid’s Club.” About 300 children are expected to participate when the school year begins.
Long Beach resident students who were enrolled in the Los Alamitos day care program last year will be allowed to continue going to school there through middle school, Prilliman said. But now it will be much harder for new applicants to get a child-care based inter-district transfer permit.
“We’re going to look very closely at any new applications” for inter-district transfers, Prilliman said. Each case will be decided individually, he said.
Los Alamitos officials, meanwhile, said they don’t know how many Long Beach students they will lose.
“We don’t know yet what the impact will be,” Los Alamitos Assistant Supt. Lorene Gonia said. She added, however, “We’re not worried about closing any schools.”
Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this story.
School Day Care
Centers will provide before- and after-school day care this fall at 10 Long Beach Unified School District elementary schools, most of the them on the east side of the city. The centers include:
Birney, 710 W. Spring St., Long Beach
Bixby, 5251 E. Stearns St., Long Beach
Cleveland, 4760 Hackett Ave., Lakewood
Cubberly, 3200 Monogram Ave., Long Beach
Emerson, 2625 Josie Ave., Long Beach
Henry, 3720 Canehill Ave., Long Beach
Lowell, 5201 E. Broadway, Long Beach
MacArthur, 6011 Centralia St., Lakewood
Prisk, 2375 Fanwood Ave., Long Beach
Signal Hill, 2285 Walnut Ave., Signal Hill