2017-05-18 / Editorials

Oak Park’s Measure A and the attack on District of Choice

The Oak Park school district parcel tax narrowly lost at the ballot box last week—a result that left a few egos bruised but came as little surprise.

Not only residents of Oak Park—but also those in Agoura Hills who must deal with Kanan Road traffic on a daily basis—have been complaining for years about the large influx of students from outside the area.

The students come from Simi Valley, the San Fernando Valley, and across the Conejo Valley to attend Oak Park’s award-winning classrooms under District of Choice, a statewide program that allows public school districts to import students from outside cities.

Measure A was a $197-a-year parcel tax extension that was seen by many as a referendum on District of Choice, and it lost by a scant 25 votes. The tax has been around since 2004 and got 80 percent of the vote when it was renewed in 2008. This year, however, was different. People who voted no on Measure A appeared to be fed up with the growing traffic and the fact that, technically, the outsiders weren’t required to pay the parcel tax.

Almost half of Oak Park’s student population comes from afar under District of Choice. It’s not the way public schools are supposed to work, but that doesn’t mean District of Choice is a bad thing. It gives families a wider selection of schools for their children, and school choice is a good thing, right?

Oak Park, however, was accused of cherry-picking its students—taking the smart kids and eschewing the more costly, special education kids. Interdistrict mobility is a hallmark of the program, but the reality is far different. Statewide, the program was labeled unfair because minority students have fewer resources to transport themselves to other school districts.

Today, District of Choice is under fire by the California Legislature and its future is in doubt.

Back to Measure A, and Oak Park’s new wake-up call.

The school district will lose some $900,000 a year in tax funding that helped pay for teachers and academic programs. The loss will hurt, but not as much as the Measure A backers think it will. A child can still buckle down, get good grades and make their way into the world whether the tax is in effect or not. And while proponents touted the small class sizes brought about by Measure A, the data remain scant on whether small classes are really a determinant of student success.

Other factors are at play, too. If Oak Park finds its student population dwindling due to the high cost of housing and fewer young families moving into the area, then perhaps it’s time for the administration to think seriously about closing an elementary school and consolidating finances.

In any case, it’s back to the drawing board for this esteemed school district. Although the game has changed, we are confident that Oak Park will continue its track record of success.

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