Published Online: January 13, 2010

Beverly Hills to Boot Non-District K-8 Pupils

After more than four hours of emotional and sometimes contentious debate, the Beverly Hills Unified School District approved a controversial proposal Tuesday to boot out more than 400 out-of-district students.

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 formula. But the board will allow all high school students to remain in the district

The issue has inflamed sentiment in this exclusive community, which has long boasted schools that are recognized for excellence. They offer a rich menu of extracurricular activities ranging from madrigal singers to water polo in the renowned "swim gym"—an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a pool underneath.

But petitions, Facebook threats and name-calling are what have been on display in recent months. Police attended Tuesday's meeting in case tempers flared into unruly conduct, but the audience remained largely civil. Board President Steven Fenton ejected two audience members for heckling members of the board.

Former Mayor Robert K. Tanenbaum presented the school board with a petition signed by 2,600 residents in favor of allowing the so-called permit students to matriculate.

"We made a commitment to these children when we needed the dollars. The children are not expendable. They are not financial assets," he said, to a standing ovation.

Some Beverly Hills residents spoke in favor of the board's proposed action to end the "opportunity permit" policy.

"This is a community trying to take care of its own, and there's nothing wrong with that," Genevieve Peters said.

Resident Lee Lewis said the argument that forcing students to switch schools would be harmful is baseless because children change schools all the time, for all sorts of reasons.

But Beverly Hills High School junior Tatiana Spottiswood said kicking out her classmates was unfair because the students and teachers are "like a family."

"Asking these students to leave is like putting your kids up for adoption," she said.

The board's action comes as the district switches its funding from reliance on state financing to its own property tax dollars. That means the district will keep more money from its wealthy tax base but won't receive the state's $6,239 for each out-of-district student it schools.

The situation has cropped up elsewhere in California. With recent cuts in state education spending, wealthy communities are finding that their property taxes earmarked for state education budgets exceed the amount they receive from the state for their schools.

Irvine Unified School District, which also switched to self-financing, ended out-of-district enrollment last year.

Beverly Hills board Vice President Lisa Korbatov said it's an issue of fairness to residents of the exclusive city because their money will now be used to fund their schools, and they shouldn't have to pay for outsiders.

"People make sacrifices to move in here," she said. "We're saying to the permit students, 'Please move in; be our neighbors.'"

But opponents say kicking out the students, some of whom have attended Beverly Hills since kindergarten, is unfair.

"The human consequences are more important to me than the financial consequences," said board member Myra Lurie. "It's a mean-spirited and somewhat elitist point of view than our schools are for us and us only."

Education experts say the drama in Beverly Hills underscores that education is being affected by the economic crisis.

"They're taking action to protect their own," said John Rogers, co-director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. "It's a troubling but logical response."

Most of the permit students live in the well-to-do neighborhoods of western Los Angeles that surround Beverly Hills and would have to attend either private school or public school in the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, which has a 33 percent dropout rate.

Kahn said her family is considering renting out their house, which is located just blocks over the boundary of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, and renting an apartment in Beverly Hills.

"My dad's starting to pack up boxes around the house," she said.

Associated Press Writer Christina Hoag wrote this report.

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