2010-10-14 / Front Page

Oak Park caps outside enrollment

More than a third of the students are from out-of-town
By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

As a “District of Choice,” the Oak Park Unified School District still has room for more out-of-town students, but the board of education recently moved to cap the number of students who will be accepted in the next school year.

With all California schools feeling the financial squeeze because of less state funding, the District of Choice designation helps schools increase their revenues by making it easier for out-of-district students to enroll. Public schools receive funds from the state based on the size of their enrollment.

At a time when per-pupil funding by the state has been slashed, most school districts are loath to release a student into out-of-area schools. A District of Choice designation allows parents to move their children to other schools without obtaining approval from their school district.

At their Sept. 21 meeting, the Oak Park school board discussed enrollment capacity at each school and voted to cap out-ofdistrict transfers to 35 percent of student population. Oak Park now has 1,338 tranfer students, or 33 percent of enrollment.

Superintendent Tony Knight said the transfers generate almost $8 million for the school district.

“It was a compromise that we were forced to make because the state abandoned us,” Knight said about allowing so many out-ofarea students into the Oak Park district.

Knight said the revenue from out-of-district students has played a “major role” in offsetting the state budget cuts. In the past two years, the district’s budget has been slashed by 22 percent, he said.

Board member Marie Panec said at a recent community meeting, parents wanted to know if the cap on out-of-area students was enough to offset crowded classes. Other parents were baffled that the extra funding from the out-of-district students was not enough to keep the music program in full swing.

“We cannot have all the programs we’ve had in the past and also have no cuts to anything,” Panec said. “We are trying to balance maintaining programs in some shape or form with cuts and increased class size.”

The district receives $5,953 from the state per student. The additional $8 million generated from out-of-district students is offset by expenses totaling $4.7 million, leaving $3.3 million in additional revenue, or 12 percent of the total budget.

Barry Myerson, chair of Friends of Oak Park Schools, said the additional funding generated from transfer students fails to offest the cuts by the state. People see bigger class sizes and don’t understand that they would be even larger without money from transfer students, Myerson said.

Without funding from permit students, Knight said one of Oak Park’s elementary schools might have to be closed. He also said classroom sizes would be larger at all grade levels without the transfer students. Counselor-tostudent ratios would be worse, and fewer course offerings would be offered at the middle and high school levels, including Advanced Placement and honors courses.

Athletic programs also would be scaled back, the superintendent said.

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