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County Overrules BUSD on Six Transfer Students

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday September 04, 2007

Six new out-of-district students will be able to transfer to the Berkeley public schools this school year since the Alameda County Board of Education overturned the Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) decision to deny them the transfers. 

Berkeley Unified only accepted inter-district transfers for students continuing their last year at the Berkeley public schools and denied all new applications this year. 

Seventeen of those who were denied new transfers appealed to the Alameda County Board of Education.  

After a five-hour-long hearing, the board approved six cases and denied the rest.  

“The board listened to everyone carefully but only approved the six who had siblings in the Berkeley elementary schools,” Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordon told the Planet. “There was a strong attempt to be consistent. It was not my decision. The board made the decision. It was extremely difficult but they had a set of criteria. This was a particularly tight year.” 

Francesco Martinez, manager of admissions and attendance for Berkeley Unified, said that the district had denied all new inter-district applications because of a space crunch. 

“I denied them because there is no more room in our schools,” he said. “Parents presented their case, we rebutted. They want to send their kids to our schools because it’s a somewhat successful district sandwiched between two failing districts, Oakland and Contra Costa.” 

The lack of space has forced Berkeley High students to attend some classes in portable classrooms at Washington Elementary School. Some students at Rosa Parks Elementary School are being taught on the auditorium stage because there are no more available classrooms left. 

District policy states that no transfers will be allowed into Berkeley High School. 

Last school year, the district approved 415 inter-district continuing students and 34 new inter-district permits. 

This school year saw 430 inter-district permits approved for continuing students in the Berkeley schools. 

“If students met the criteria for satisfactory grades, attendance and behavior, they are approved,” Martinez said. “The good news is that the vast majority of them were approved.” 

The school board’s policy dictates that any out-of-district student failing to meet these three criteria will not be re-admitted for the coming year. 

Jacki Fox Ruby, who represents Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont, Emeryville and north Oakland on the county education board, said that the board based their approval on ten different criteria. 

“The most important ones are childcare and hardship,” she said. “If one of the children is going to Berkeley and the parent works in Berkeley then there are childcare issues involved for the other child. You know you are affecting families. You know you are affecting lives. We don’t want to break up a family.” 

The controversy over inter-district transfers continues. There has been a lot of concern among residents and district administrators about students who are illegally registering as Berkeley residents to get into Berkeley schools. 

According to school officials, policies on inter-district transfers have often been enforced unevenly over the years, and undetected “illegal transfers” add to the total number of transfer students. 

“Berkeley schools are considered an oasis between two large urban school districts,” Jordon said. “Berkeley residents are paying more taxes for smaller classes and there are more inter-district denials happening every year. Parents often take to illegal means to send their students to Berkeley, but it is hard to get into the district with a false address.” 

Fox Ruby, who has taught in the Berkeley schools for almost 30 years, said that teachers had always been aware of students who were there illegally from another district. 

“If the district would do its job of weeding out those students whose parents have illegally admitted them, then there will be room for more children who have gone through the correct process,” she said. 

In a report prepared by the Berkeley Public Education Foundation for the Measure A Campaign, Ken Hall, former deputy director of the state Department of Finance, said that transfer students in lower grades brought in money to the district. 

“As long as you have the facilities, the per-student average daily attendance income that comes with inter-district transfers is more than the additional cost per student.” 

Superintendent Michele Lawrence told the Berkeley education board earlier this year that while the school district did not want to act like the U.S. immigration system, it was important to maintain a balanced check on students. 

School board president Joaquin Rivera has repeatedly stated at board meetings that the main problem was whether there was any kind of overdue strain on the system as a result of the illegal students. 

The district has recently stepped up efforts to verify proof of Berkeley residency. Students who want to enroll in Berkeley schools have to show three proofs of residence. 

When a student lives with someone other than a parent, a district-hired investigator does a home visit in order to confirm residency. 

Martinez said that half of the transfer students are children of Berkeley teachers, as is required in their contract. Others are children of people employed within the city limits by the City of Berkeley or UC Berkeley. 

The school board is working on a proposal to re-enroll students in grades six and nine to help enforce the residency requirement in the public schools..