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Beverly Hills school board votes to keep nonresident students out

January 13, 2010 |  1:58 pm

Scores of students attending Beverly Hills schools will have to find new campuses next fall now that the school board has voted to end special permits for many children who live outside the city.

In a compromise, the board agreed to allow all high school students to continue applying for permits each year, an action that won applause from a packed, emotional but civil crowd at Beverly Hills High School that sat through more than four hours of debate Tuesday that lasted nearly to midnight.

The crux of the sometimes heated arguments hinged on the school board’s responsibility to tax-paying residents as opposed to 484 out-of-district students.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to notify families in grades kindergarten through sixth that their so-called opportunity permits probably will not be renewed for the 2010-11 school year and that if they want to continue enrollment they must establish residency within the district boundaries.

Seventh-graders will be able to graduate from middle school, but eight-graders will not be able to enter high school. In all, about 203 student permits will not be renewed, said district officials.

The meeting was marked by recrimination and some confusion as various amendments to accept some grade levels and exclude others were proposed and rejected.

Board member Lisa Korbatov questioned why permit families living in some ZIP Codes where homes come with million-dollar price tags could not move to the city.

"What should I say to people living in Beverly Hills who are working two jobs, struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table? Their stories are just as compelling as yours," she said.

But former Beverly Hills Mayor Charles Aronberg told the board that to not renew permits would turn children into commodities.

"To not renew would reflect very badly on our city, and as we all know, when someone sneezes in Beverly Hills, it's heard around the world," he said.

In reaching a compromise, many board members acknowledged their actions would be widely scrutinized.

"To build consensus and get a unanimous 5-0 vote was extremely satisfying," said trustee Steven Fenton. "I’m grateful to my colleagues for coming together on this issue."

Still, the decision left some families unsatisfied. Although Leslie Wasserman’s ninth-grade daughter, Emily, will now be able to continue, daughter Hannah, a sixth-grader, will have to find a new school.

"It’s devastating," said Wasserman. "We don’t know what we’re going to do, except we’re going to appeal and fight."

Whether to continue the opportunity permits has long been a contentious issue but moved to the forefront this year because of a funding shift. The Beverly Hills school district currently receives about $6,200 from the state for each student it enrolls. But it is preparing to become a "basic aid" district, meaning it will use its property tax revenue to pay for schools rather than state aid based on student attendance.

With the financial incentive removed, several board members argued that Beverly Hills taxpayers would be, in effect, subsidizing the education of nonresident students if they were allowed to stay until graduation.

Permit families wanted all the students to finish their education in the Beverly Hills district. Families whose permits are not renewed can appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which is the final authority on interdistrict transfers.

-- Carla Rivera in Beverly Hills

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