State

Some districts limit student transfers

The Thomases want their younger daughter to attend Modesto's Enochs High School because of its graphic design program. And their older daughter goes to Enochs and could look after her.

Roxanne Fausto wants her three children — first-, third- and fifth-graders — to attend schools in Oakdale Unified School District, where her parents live and can help with child care.

The problem? Both families live within Riverbank Unified School District's boundary. To send their children to schools outside the district, they needed Riverbank to approve their requests, called interdistrict transfers.

After being rejected by the Riverbank district this year, the Thomases and Fausto made final appeals to the Stanislaus County Board of Education. The Thomases' appeal was granted, but Fausto's was denied.

Some school districts across California are tightening their grip on granting transfers and are holding onto their students in the face of deep state cuts to their budgets. Districts are funded primarily on the number of students who attend school each day. Any reduction in students means less funding.

The county Board of Education heard appeals from six Riverbank Unified families Wednesday. The board approved one, rejected four and sent one to the district for further discussion.

Riverbank Unified Assistant Superintendent Ron Costa told the board that Riverbank trustees directed staff to be more rigid in approving transfers for the upcoming school year. Of 36 requests, 22 were granted and 14 were denied, he said.

He pointed out that having too many students transferring from Riverbank High School hurts the school's ability to offer a range of programs, such as Advanced Placement classes. The school will have about 700 students this fall.

"We're interested in serving all our students, that's why we've tightened up on interdistrict transfers," Costa said.

Families ask for transfers for a variety of reasons, but only a few are allowed under the state Education Code. For instance, a student cannot transfer for a sports program but can for a special educational program that's not offered by the home district.

Siblings, safety play a role

Officials take into account letting siblings attend the same school, student safety and any hardship that denying a transfer will place on a family.

Some interdistrict transfers involve students voluntarily referred to alternative education programs such as continuation and community schools run by the county Office of Education. Months ago, officials at several districts — including Modesto City Schools, Turlock Unified and Patterson Unified — told county Superintendent Tom Changnon that they'd be pulling students back into their districts.

"That's a tremendous fiscal impact for us," Changnon said about the county Office of Education, which serves 2,400 students in alternative education classes.

Scaling back transfers brings up this question: If it was in students' interest to attend schools outside the district before the state's financial meltdown, are officials now letting money override what's best for students?

Some parents say yes, including two who appealed Riverbank Unified's decision to deny transfers Wednesday. But district administrators disagree.

"We basically have always tried to hang onto our kids," said Marlin Sumpter, director of child welfare and attendance at Modesto City Schools. "We're looking at why they're transferring and trying to meet those needs. We're trying to meet the best interests of students while also weighing the financial piece for the district as well. But the best interests of students supersedes the financial."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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