Leslie Wasserman doesn't live in Beverly Hills, California, but her two daughters have been going to school in the tony 90210 zip code for 10 years. Come June, her youngest will have to find a new school.
Ronda Kaysen: Last night, the Beverly Hills Unified School District approved the controversial plan to end the district's practice of allowing out-of-area students to attend its schools. The board voted unanimously to notify all so-called "permit students" in kindergarten through 8th grade that they must enroll elsewhere because of the district's new financing plan. The board will allow all high school students to remain in the district, reports KTLA.
For years, the monied school district has offered permits to hundreds of kids who don't live in Beverly Hills so that they could attend the famously good schools there. In exchange for each kid, the district received $6,200 from the state and filled empty seats. But that equation became less profitable once the city actually collected more money in property taxes for education than it could from state education coffers. So, the school district decided to become a "basic aid" district, meaning it will rely on its property tax base for funding rather than an attendance base. That means the permit system is gone, and kids who hail from other zip codes will need to find another place to call school.
The flap over what will happen with the approximately 775 children who attend the district's schools on a permit basis had reached such a fevered pitch that extra security was called to last night's school board meeting, and national news outlets had been hanging on the school board members' every word.
The crux of the debate lied with a portion of the permit kids, the so-called "opportunity permits." Supporters of the change wanted to see these kids gone by the end of the school year, reducing class size and hopefully enticing more Beverly Hills residents to reconsider public school. Critics argued that pulling kids out of schools they've known all their lives without enough time to consider other options is cruel and will harm the children. But Beverly Hills residents in favor of the change argued that parents make a choice when they don't buy in the well-heeled city.
"Membership has its privileges," Lisa Korbatov, vice president of the Beverly Hills school board, told the New York Times. "But anyone can be a member. I made a choice to spend more to live in a home here when I could have spent less on a bigger home in another area. But I made a choice and sacrificed."
Critics saw a different story: When it was in the city's best financial interests to have their kids come into Beverly Hills, they welcomed them with open arms. When the financial situation changed, they threw them out without warning.
"I get it, I totally get it, but we were asked to come here. I've been on the board of the PTA. I've given all my money to the school," said Wasserman, whose daughters are in the 9th and 6th grades. "Do the fair thing. Give us at least a year's notice or follow the other 13 school districts who are in the same situation, and who did the moral and ethical thing and matriculated the other children."
According to Wasserman, of the 13 other school districts that decided to change their permit policy, 12 of them chose to matriculate current students, meaning they could stay until they graduated out of the school system, and one district decided to let students stay until they reached a "natural breaking point."
Wasserman lives in Los Angeles, near West Hollywood, in a house that she inherited. Her husband owns a physical therapy business in Beverly Hills, which is how her kids ended up going to Beverly Hills schools in the first place. Their neighborhood high school, Fairfax High School, is overcrowded and has metal detectors, said Wasserman. She said she wouldn't feel comfortable sending her daughters there -- and the change comes too late in the year for the family to apply for private school.
"My little one is very upset, she doesn't understand," said Wasserman.
Proponents of the measure say there's an easy solution: Move.
"The parents should make the sacrifice that so many Beverly Hills parents have made and move into Beverly Hills because that's the only way to guarantee that your child is going to be able to continue in Beverly Hills Unified School District," said board member Brian Goldberg in a video that was posted on the Huffington Post.
More than 400 children are affected by last night's controversial decision.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|