Beverly Hills may scrap permits for nonresident students
The Beverly Hills school board is expected to decide Tuesday whether to end a permit program that has allowed nearly 500 students who don’t live in the city to attend its top-flight public schools. But because this is 90210, the proposal is not without drama -- including accusations of elitism, snobbery and exclusion.
Since the issue heated up this school year, tempers have reached a boiling point, with both sides trading insults and name-calling. Essays and even a video have turned up on websites such as the Huffington Post. And extra security is being called in to ensure that Tuesday’s meeting remains civil.
Over the years, the district has enrolled hundreds of students who don’t live in the city but who are taking advantage of its academically rich programs and extracurricular activities. The district benefited by receiving about $6,200 per pupil from the state and by filling empty seats in schools with declining enrollments.
But the battered state economy has changed that equation. The city this year is set to collect more in property taxes for education than it would receive in state education funds. So, the Beverly Hills Unified School District is petitioning to become the first “basic aid” school district in Los Angeles County, meaning it will use its flush property tax base to finance schools rather than rely on student attendance funds.
Without the financial incentive to enroll outsiders, many district officials say resources should be focused on residents. But one thorny issue remains: What to do with the current students who attend city schools on so-called opportunity permits.
One plan would allow seventh-graders to finish middle school and 10th- and 11th-graders to stay through high school, while forcing the remaining students to find new schools next fall.
Parents of the 484 permit students -- most of whom live in nearby neighborhoods such as Bel-Air, Beverlywood and Cheviot Hills and the Beverly Hills Post Office area -- argue that it would be cruel to disrupt academics and long-term friendships and that all the students should be allowed to stay on until graduation.
But board member Brian David Goldberg said it was bad public policy for his district to offer permits that encouraged students to abandon their neighborhood schools. Ending it, he said, would allow for smaller class sizes and more elective courses for Beverly Hills students.
Because the permits were renewed on a yearly basis, families had no guarantee of continuous enrollment, he said. If they want that continuity, he said, they can buy or rent in the city.
“We’re not building a wall around Beverly Hills. We’re not telling anyone they can’t move here,” said Goldberg. “Some have tried to paint us in the most negative light possible, but we’re not going to allow out-of-district parents to set policy for our board.”
Goldberg noted that the district plans to continue a variety of other nonresident permits including those for city and school employees and ethnic and racial minorities and so-called legacy permits for students whose parents attended Beverly Hills schools and whose grandparents still live there.
Families whose permits are not renewed can appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which is gearing up for a flood of inquiries, said Victor Thompson, director of student support services. Each case will be considered individually and criteria will include whether the student’s best interest is served by continuing in the Beverly Hills district.
Lee Lewis moved to Beverly Hills in 2001 so his children could attend city schools. He criticized permit families for not being equally proactive.
“Now we feel like we’re being penalized for doing the right thing,” Lewis said.
Clancy Sigal and Janice Tidwell argue that children should not be punished for their parents’ “sin” of not living in Beverly Hills. Former residents, the family now lives nearby in Los Angeles but son Joe, a freshman, has attended Beverly Hills schools since kindergarten.
Sigal said that when his son’s permit was renewed each year, district officials implied that he could stay assuming there were no disciplinary problems. Now, Sigal said, it may be hard to get into a good public school in the Los Angeles Unified School District and too late to apply to a private school.
“We’re stressed, and if we’re stressed, so are our kids,” said Sigal. “Throwing hundreds of kids out of a school system they’ve known is brutal and punishing. It’s simply not the way for a school board to deal with kids, who are their prime responsibility.”
District officials said they are still trying to sort out the ramifications of ending the permits. Supt. Jerry Gross said keeping the permit students could cost the district $2 million to $5 million a year but admitted there is no agreement on how to calculate such a figure.
Board member Myra Lurie said the price tag for allowing all the permit students to graduate would be marginal at best.
“But the human costs of possibly causing all kinds of trauma associated with uprooting children on such little notice makes this a clear choice that they should be allowed to remain,” said Lurie.
Former Beverly Hills Mayor Robert K. Tanenbaum agreed. He is co-chairman of a recently formed coalition of residents and public dignitaries that has gathered more than 1,000 petition signatures in support of the permit students.
“We in Beverly Hills are a caring, moral people, and we can afford to do the right thing,” said Tanenbaum. “We shouldn’t allow three or four people to cast a dim, unfavorable light on our entire community.”