La Cañada schools to hold permit lottery

Out-of-district families hoping to get their students into La Cañada public schools can leave their sleeping bags, ear warmers and jugs of hot cocoa at home.

The La Cañada Unified School District on Monday announced the introduction of a lottery system that will mean certain categories of permit students will no longer be given priority. As a result, families will not be camping out for a weekend in front of the district office to get to the top of the list, as has been the practice in recent years. Instead, those hoping for a coveted interdistrict permit can bank on one thing only — the luck of the draw.

“I think it's a positive move,” said school board member Andrew Blumenfeld. “It's definitely an improvement in the process rather than the undignified system of having parents line up for days. I think to have a lottery system is at least as fair and maybe more fair than asking parents to line up days before.”

Board president Scott Tracy agrees.

“The wait-in-line method can be a very big imposition on families,” Tracy said. “This alleviates all that.”

Parents who work full time within district boundaries, families who reside in the “Sagebrush” area of western La Cañada, or those applying under “open enrollment” provisions will no longer receive priority. Instead, their interdistrict permit applications will be accepted at the district office from March 11 through April 30. Afterward, the district will conduct a lottery to rank student priority by category.

Students of full- and part-time school district employees and siblings of continuing permit students will not have to depend on the new lottery system. They will continue to receive priority for interdistrict permits.

“It's a good way for us to maintain local, community schools because they are already part of our community,” Blumenfeld said. “If your sibling already goes to the school, we don't want to break up the family. These people are already a big, important part of our community.”

Fewer than 50 permits are expected to be given for the 2013-14 school year. Last year, the school board voted to decrease the interdistrict permit percentage caps to 15% total districtwide and 25% per grade level. The district's permits are nearly at their limits because of the large number of permit students accepted during the last few years.

“The caps are the same as last year,” Blumenfeld said.

An increase in kindergarten enrollment has increased the demand for space in local schools, according to Tracy.

“What makes this year more challenging is that with the increased number of resident kindergarten students there will be fewer spots available for permit families,” Tracy said. “That's creating even more of a frenzy.”

While getting a child into the district may not always be easy, the challenge demonstrates the high quality of education in La Cañada, according to Blumenfeld.

“It reflects very well on the quality of education and the value of sending your children to La Cañada schools,” he said. “For parents to be able to get access to the level of education we're offering is a very big deal for families.”

The district decided to try the new lottery method after receiving the suggestion from an engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Blumenfeld and Tracy passed along the suggestion to Supt. Wendy Sinnette, who helped draft the official policy change.

District officials are optimistic that the new lottery system will be an improvement on the old camp-out-all-weekend method. Later this spring, they will review how the new permit procedures fared.

“I can't tell you how this is going to play out,” Tracy said. “But I can tell you there aren't very many spaces available.”

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