Beverly Hills Schools Move to Exclude Outside Pupils
Threats on Facebook, name-calling, security guard escorts — tempers are running high around schools these days in this normally sedate enclave of ostentatious wealth.
The reason: The Beverly Hills school board is preparing to boot out 10 percent of its students as it ends a decades-old practice of allowing out-of-district pupils to attend city schools on "opportunity permits."
The move has upset many so-called permit parents — mostly middle-class families living in the tonier areas of Los Angeles who are loath to send their children to the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, where more than a quarter of high-schoolers drop out.
"Every family on permit is outraged," said Simy Levy, a Los Angeles resident whose two daughters attend school in Beverly Hills. "It's incredibly unfair."
The plan, which is expected to get final board approval next month, comes as Beverly Hills Unified School District switches to a budget plan financed directly by the city's well-to-do tax base instead of with state money based on enrollment.
The change results from steep cuts in state education funds that has left several affluent communities across the nation paying more school taxes to the state than they receive.
Beverly Hills is the latest to consider the self-financing model, in which the district would keep its school taxes and forgo the $6,239 the state sends for each nonresident student.
Without the financial incentive of enrolling outsiders, district officials are concerned their taxpayers would be subsidizing nonresidents' education.
"What is wrong with me saying, 'We have to save our resources for residents?'" said Beverly Hills school board Vice President Lisa Korbatov. "Our police do not respond to neighboring cities if someone is mugged or assaulted."
As education dollars dry up, districts across the nation are taking a closer look at nonresident students. In Tonganoxie, Kan., school officials are mulling charging outsiders tuition if state law allows them to do so. Many other districts — including ones in Broward County, Fla., and San Felipe Del Rio in Texas — are aggressively weeding out illegally enrolled outsiders.
The Irvine School District in Orange County, Calif., is in the same situation as Beverly Hills and ended out-of-district enrollment earlier this year.
"It's a reflection of the decisions districts have to make of economic hard times," said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "It's just a major issue across the country."
Down and Out in Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills would end outside enrollment next school year. The plan would affect 484 children, most of whom would either have to attend private school or a Los Angeles public school if ousted from the 4,891-pupil district.
They would leave behind schools that have won state and federal recognition for academic excellence. The Beverly Hills district also boasts a rich menu of extracurricular activities ranging from madrigal singers to water polo. Facilities include the renown "swim gym" — an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a swimming pool underneath.
Permit parents say their children should at least be allowed to finish their education at Beverly Hills to avoid the instability of disrupting long-term friendships and academic continuity.
"They're saying, 'Hey guys, looks like we don't need you any more for the money. Here's the door'," said Steven Wasserman, a permit parent of two children. "My wife is in tears almost nightly over this."
Both sides have traded barbed rhetoric — nonresidents have been accused of being ingrate freeloaders, while residents have been labeled elitist snobs.
Facebook pages have sprung up on both sides, with police investigating one posting that called for "machine gun machetes" to be used against those who favor ending permits. Disciplinary action against the 12-year-old boy who posted the statement was referred to school administrators, said Sgt. Lincoln Hoshino.
Board meetings have turned unruly with accusations that members were acting like "Hitler." Korbatov had a security guard escort her to her car after a recent session.
For the next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 12, police are sending officers to stand by.
Board member Myra Lurie, the most vocal member opposing the new policy, said it's unfair to kick out the students, many of whom have been in Beverly Hills schools for years.
"They're part of the fabric of the system," she said. "The human consequences are more important to me than the financial consequences."
She said a cost analysis showed that the district would save seven teaching positions with the enrollment reduction, saving about 1 percent of its projected $50.2 million budget for next year.
The board has compromised to let seventh-grade permit students finish middle school, and 10th- and 11th-graders graduate high school. The district will also continue permits for 291 children, including low-income minority high schoolers, children whose parents work for the city or schools, and students whose grandparents reside in the city and have an alumni parent.
Parents have the option of appealing a rejection to the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Wasserman said he's already contacted the county office and is lobbying state legislators and officials.
Families can also move into Beverly Hills, but that tactic is a challenge to some parents.
Levy said she's been trying to sell her house for a year, but property values have dropped so much, her mortgage now equals the home's worth. She and her husband are now considering renting out their house and renting an apartment in Beverly Hills.
"That's how bad I want my kids to stay in the Beverly Hills school district," Levy said. "I would never move them."