Shoreline lobbies for transfer student funding

08/31/2017

Shoreline Unified School District is preparing to lobby the governor and state legislature to fund a state program that provided it with nearly $500,000 last year but was significantly reduced this summer.

The program, known as District of Choice, allows students who transfer from non-basic-aid districts into basic-aid districts, or those funded mostly by property tax revenue, to bring with them 70 percent of the state funding they would have brought to their home district. 

In June, a slimmed-down version of the program was extended through 2022, with the 70-percent figure slashed to 25 percent. The revised law also boosts transparency and accessibility—such as requiring communication materials to be made available in other languages spoken in the district—but it also leaves Shoreline with around $350,000 less than it anticipated in revenue this year, or about 2.3 percent of its projected income.

Bob Raines, the district’s superintendent, said Shoreline is prepared to cover the loss with reserve funds. But although it has “strong reserves,” the district also has a structural deficit.

“We can’t have a $350,000 hole in the budget,” Mr. Raines said. “And unfortunately, the biggest part of the budget for the school district is staff, teachers and administrators.”

Shoreline has joined a formal consortium with other regional basic-aid districts, including San Rafael High School and a few Sonoma school districts, to begin lobbying in Sacramento for funds to be allocated for the program in the governor’s next budget. Mr. Raines said that in the past, Shoreline has not spend any money on lobbying, since it’s a member of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, the California School Boards Association and Schools for Sound Finance, which lobby on its behalf. This time, it will pitch in $5,000, or 10 percent of the total lobbying cost.

The District of Choice program began in 1993 to allow students to attend a school regardless of their home address. About 10,000 students across the state currently benefit from the program. Shoreline adopted it in 2015 at the suggestion of Bruce Abbott, the district’s business manager who previously handled the program at Lagunitas School.

Last year, Shoreline had 128 transfer students who brought funds from their home districts. A majority of those students came from Petaluma High School, Two Rock Unified and the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School Districts.

According to Mr. Raines, one of Shoreline’s major draws for inter-district transfers is its smaller class sizes, which typically hover in the low 20s. But if Shoreline were forced to cut teachers, class sizes could rise to the 30s. “The idea is we’re not going to sit back and take it. We’re going to go ahead and do some battling for our kids,” Mr. Raines said. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Mr. Raines said he might “bring families out to testify in front of legislative committees. I think it’s important for the legislators to understand the impact of their actions.” 

Over the last two decades, Shoreline has seen a gradual decrease in enrollment. In 1996, 858 students attended the district’s five schools; that number fell to 515 last year.

At Lagunitas School District, revenue generated by District of Choice has declined in recent years as fewer students transferred into the district. This year, 249 students enrolled at Lagunitas. In 2013, the district received over $67,000 in funding; this year, with the recent changes to the program, Jeff Lippstreu, the school’s chief business officer, said that revenue would be $10,340, or less than 1 percent of the district’s projected income. 

“At 25 percent [funding], it isn’t worth it for us to enroll in the program,” John Carroll, the district’s superintendent, said. He explained that although there is no cost to join the program, its documentation requirements are “a real time suck.” 

Mr. Carroll also serves as the superintendent for the Bolinas-Stinson School District and said that district does not participate in the program.

District of Choice came under fire recently after the release of an evaluation by the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office in early 2016. Although the report recommended continuing the program for at least another five years, it found that Hispanic students were significantly less likely to transfer out of their home districts than were white or Asian students. The vast majority of transfer students left poorer, lower-performing districts for more affluent ones that scored higher on state exams.

Yet this wasn’t necessarily the case for Shoreline. Students from Petaluma High School and Two Rock Unified transferred in from districts with a higher academic performance index, the score representing a district’s performance on state tests. Students from the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School Districts left a district with a significantly lower A.P.I.

Mr. Raines told the Light earlier this year that at Shoreline, half of the 120 students who transferred in through the program are English learners and qualify for the subsidized lunch program.

 

This article was corrected on Sept. 10 to reflect the amount Shoreline Unified School District will pay for its latest lobbying efforts, $5,000.