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Huntington Beach school board votes to close a school and oust transfers

In what aptly could be described as whiplash, the Huntington Beach City School District board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28, ended quite differently from the way it started  – with trustees voting 3-2 to close an elementary school this summer and oust most transfer students.

Out-of-district transfer students entering fifth and eighth grades next school year will be allowed to finish up their elementary or middle-school careers in HBCSD.

Losing a yet-to-be-determined school next fall will lead to new school boundaries, with some children assigned to schools they don’t currently attend.

Initially, board members were set to vote on a “fiscal stability plan” allowing for baby steps toward the inevitable shuttering of a school. That road map would have given the district another year to consider which school to cut loose.

It also would have frozen the acceptance of new out-of-district transfer students while letting current transfers remain for at least the time being.

With that option, the district would shave about 200 of the 750 transfers from its rolls next school year – a total that accounts for ninth-graders matriculating this year and kindergartners who normally would have started in the fall.

The plan also called for slashing 17 teaching positions next school year, with more to come as out-of-district transfers dissipated either by attrition or an eventual end to the program.

The district faces a projected $6.8 million deficit, partly due to declining enrollment as families with young children settle inland where housing is more affordable. Annually, HBCSD loses about 200 new students living within its boundaries.

From the start, trustees Bridget Kaub and Shari Kowalke expressed skepticism about that approach. They argued that the district first needs to serve its own students before it trims programs in order to afford transfers.

But board president Ann Sullivan and trustee Paul Morrow questioned the fairness of kicking out longtime transfer students once wooed by the district to boost its flagging enrollment.

California provides funds to schools based on attendance numbers. However, HBCSD is, by all indicators, soon to be designated a “community-funded” district – meaning that it will bring in enough property tax income for financial independence.

After listening for hours to dozens of speakers with varying perspectives in the packed boardroom, Kowalke proposed an amended plan entirely distinct from the one presented in the agenda.

Apologizing, board member Diana Marks tearfully voiced support for the revised plan.

“I see my nephew back there shaking his head,” she said. “He has inter-district (transfer) kids. But when I look at what inter-districts are costing us, I don’t see how we can stay fiscally sound. This breaks my heart.”

Only two districts in Orange County are self-sufficient: Laguna Beach and Newport-Mesa Unified. With home values and property taxes rising every year, and baby boomers selling houses that enjoy pre-Proposition 13 taxes, affluent HBCSD is destined to join them.

The “community-funded” designation comes with big advantages – giving districts more control over “nonessential” programs such as for sports and arts.

Furthermore, if a district receives enough money from property taxes to cover its own expenses, it can keep surplus tax income rather than pool it with money shared by all California schools.

On a sliding scale, the state provides the vast majority of school districts at least some funding. Schools with high numbers of low-income students and English learners receive the most. That formula makes HBCSD one of the 10 lowest-funded districts in California.

With out-of-district transfer students gone, HBCSD property taxes will be divvied among a student population smaller than its current 6,600 – accelerating its transition to independence.

Most of the transfers come from the Fountain Valley, Newport-Mesa and Huntington Beach-based Ocean View school districts.

“We are not asking them to return to bad schools,” Kowalke said, “but to excellent schools that are ready to take them back.”


Source: Orange County Register

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