More than 50 camp out in hopes of transfering their children into LCUSD

It wasn’t the latest iPad or the promise of front-row concert tickets but a chance to enroll their children in the La Cañada Unified School District that led more than 50 people to spend Monday night sleeping on the sidewalk.

LCUSD’s annual inter-district enrollment process allows some parents who live outside the district the chance to enroll their children here on a first-come, first-served basis.

And although the district only started accepting applications Tuesday morning, dozens of people showed up as early as the weekend to snag a place near the front of the line.

Dan Klein — a mechanical engineer at JPL who lives in Altadena, part of the Pasadena Unified School District — had arrived late Saturday night to snag the very first place in line. Klein hopes to enroll students next year in the sixth, eighth and eleventh grades.

Priority for inter-district student enrollment goes first to children of LCUSD employees, then to people such as Klein who are employed full-time in La Cañada Flintridge, said LCUSD Governing Board member Scott Tracy.

If any spots are leftover, students from underperforming schools in other districts may then apply, but Tracy said it’s unlikely there would be many of those openings.

In order to make up for declining enrollment, LCUSD permitted a total of roughly 400 out-of-district students (about 10% of the total district enrollment) last year. This year, said Tracy, the cap is 11% — meaning only about 50 new students will be allowed to join the district.

Paul Lichtenberg of Pasadena, who snagged the No. 19 spot in line around 8 a.m. Monday, was hoping to transfer one of his two children from exclusive private schools — in part, he said, because LCUSD offers educational opportunities similar to those costly, elite academies.

“It’s too expensive to continue to send our kids to private school. I have to start saving for college. This district is ranked No. 2 in the state, and Pasadena public schools are not an option for us,” Lichtenberg said.

This week was the third time Jason Johnson, a JPL IT systems engineer who lives in Pasadena, had camped outside LCUSD headquarters.

Johnson was shut out two years ago before state laws removed some previous barriers against inter-district transfers, but last year he got his first-grader in the district, and this time around he was back for a spot in kindergarten for a younger child.

“Every year, people start showing up dramatically earlier,” said Johnson, who was attracted to the high-performing district for its art, music, technology and other special programs. “There are a lot of enrichment opportunities [at LCUSD] that are hard to come by these days.”

Other parents came from as far as Burbank, but Pasadena residents appeared to outnumber others four to one.

Rather than be put off by education boosters’ recent calls for $2,500 stakeholder donations this year, Lichtenberg and Johnson said they wouldn’t mind opening their wallets to help LCUSD continue to meet high parent expectations.

“I appreciate that La Cañada is upfront with what they need financially to meet the goals of the parents. Other districts don’t ask, probably because they assume they’re not going to get it,” Johnson said.

Compared to private school tuition, “It’s a bargain,” Lichtenberg added.

Aside from recruiting potentially active new stakeholders, Tracy said that allowing some out-of-district students to attend LCUSD brings other financial benefits to the district by stabilizing total enrollment.

“From a purely financial point of view, adding enrollment — or in our case, maintaining enrollment — is absolutely to our benefit financially and definitely allows us to keep our class-size ratios as low as they are,” Tracy said.

Out-of-district student attendance generates the same amount of state revenue for LCUSD as students who live in La Cañada. By striking the right enrollment balance, the district gets more bang for its buck by serving a greater number of students with the same fixed expenses and level of administrative staff.

For Anna Young of Montrose, a more than 22-hour wait outdoors is a small sacrifice for the chance for her 13-year-old daughter to enroll at La Cañada High School’s 7/8 campus rather than a Glendale Unified School District middle school.

“We only want the best for her,” Young said.

Although some who camped out thought LCUSD officials could have better accommodated parents by allowing them to return to their homes after taking a number in line, spirits generally remained high.

“It’s been a great little community here. I’m with neighbors who live half a mile away who I’ve never met before,” Klein said. “It’s kind of like getting a good spot at the Rose Parade — a little less rowdy, but still a good time.”

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