A proposal to increase enrollment in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District by busing in hundreds of students from overcrowded inner-city schools was sharply scaled back by the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education on Monday.
The initial plan, developed by officials of the Santa Monica-Malibu and Los Angeles Unified School districts, called for the transfer of 385 students from overcrowded schools in Los Angeles to Santa Monica-Malibu schools in September.
But Santa Monica-Malibu board members said they wanted more time for planning. They asked that talks with Los Angeles continue and that the districts investigate whether a "pilot program" involving 30 to 90 students from Los Angeles could be set up.
"At this time, I can't support it," school board member Dianne Berman said. "We can't make these kinds of decisions in May for September."
School board member Bob Holbrook, who proposed the program as a means of combating declining enrollment, warned that if the district does not do something, it will have to make unpopular cuts.
"We can shrink right down to a little school district that has no nurses, no (physical education) teachers, no aides, none of the (special) things we've grown accustomed to," he said. "If that is what the public demands, we can do that."
Will Return to L.A.
Santa Monica-Malibu Supt. George Caldwell said he will take his board's proposal to scale down the program to Los Angeles. "My guess is that they will still be interested because they have so many children that they are trying to find space for," he said.
Caldwell said that under the original proposal, the 385 students would have come from Los Angeles' Berendo and Virgil junior high schools and nearby Wilshire Corridor elementary schools. Three hundred students would have been bused to Lincoln and Adams Junior High schools and 85 to Grant Elementary School.
Caldwell said the district would have needed 13 additional teachers. The transferring students would have been 40% Asian, 40% Latino and 20% black. The Santa Monica-Malibu district would have paid the cost of busing.
The proposal, he said, was reviewed by the Los Angeles school board in a closed-door session on May 5. The transfer plan would have brought the Santa Monica-Malibu district about $1.1 million in additional revenues but would have cost nearly $1 million to operate, netting $91,000. The pilot project would not bring any significant revenues to the district, Santa Monica-Malibu school officials said.
Eugene Tucker, incoming Santa Monica-Malibu superintendent, told the board that the plan would succeed if it were phased in with a smaller group of children and if a parent's committee were established. He recommended that the board approve a smaller plan to transfer about 90 students.
The decision to reduce the program's size came after several parents commented that the proposal unjustly singled out Grant. The parents said the proposal could result in affluent parents abandoning the district for private schools.
"It is unfair," said Sam Gordon, a parent. "Declining enrollment is not just a problem at Grant, it is a problem throughout the district."
Henry Custis, a Santa Monica parent who teaches at Hoover Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, said that some of the fears that parents had about children from inner-city schools are based on a "lack of knowledge." He said, for example, that parents are afraid that test scores will drop. But he said the scores of children from his school are "not out of line with those of children from Grant." Custis also said that the Santa Monica-Malibu district had an obligation to help the children from overcrowded schools.
"There are empty classes in Santa Monica," he said. "Classrooms are for children, whether they live on one side of a boundary or on the other side."
Board member Connie Jenkins said she was pleased that Los Angeles had proposed making the program voluntary because voluntary programs often attract highly motivated students. "We will be raiding their district for some of their prime students," she added.
But school board member Della Barrett, the only board member opposed to the idea of a pilot project, disagreed.
"I have been told that voluntary programs attract two kinds of students--the cream of the crop and the bottom of the barrel," she said. Barrett said that problem students are also counseled to take part in such programs.