Santa Monica schools have slowed their declining enrollment by registering 150 students who applied in response to an advertising campaign aimed at attracting children of parents who work in the district but live elsewhere.
The surge in registrations means that for the first time in 10 years Santa Monica-Malibu district schools may open their doors in September with an enrollment equal to or larger than it was in June, said Leo Martucci, the district's director of pupil services.
Last week a steady stream of working parents visited the district headquarters at 1723 4th St. seeking information and dropping off applications to transfer their children to Santa Monica-Malibu schools.
Because of the unexpected demand, the district extended its application deadline period to Wednesday. Parents who are interested in the program may call (213) 393-2785, Ext. 244.
"We are delighted with the outcome," said Supt. Eugene Tucker. "When we set our goal of 150 students, we thought we were aiming high, but it seems like we were right on target."
The new students will add more than $400,000 in state funds to a district where the student population has declined by nearly a third during the past decade. The district will end the current school year with an enrollment of about 9,300 students.
The program may have a negative impact on private schools in Santa Monica where many working parents pay as much as $5,000 a year in tuition. Several of the parents registering their children in the district Thursday said they decided against sending their children to private schools because they could register them in the public schools.
To attract attention to the program, school officials embarked on an advertising campaign aimed at extolling the academic excellence and other virtues of the district. Ads were placed in local newspapers, district officials courted business executives and posters were put on display in storefronts, post offices and libraries.
The campaign paid off, officials said.
"We are getting applications from all over," said Rita Esquivel, assistant superintendent.
She said that the district has received applications from parents who live as close as Los Angeles, Inglewood and Culver City and from as far away as La Puente and Whittier.
Last week, parents seeking to enroll their children in the district were greeted by a dozen school officials who helped fill out applications and explained services provided by the district.
Santa Monica parents were also on hand "to explain what the district has to offer from a parent's point of view," said Leslie Martin, whose children attend McKinley Elementary School.
Those seeking to enroll their children in the Santa Monica-Malibu district must first obtain approval for the transfer from their home school districts. Parents must also provide verification of employment and their child's health records.
Gail Scott, a Baldwin Hills resident who works at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, was in the district headquarters Thursday morning filling out registration forms for her 6-year-old son, Aaron. Previously, she paid nearly $5,000 a year to send him to a private school in Santa Monica.
"The cost of private schools keep going up, and I wanted a little more structure for my son than he was being provided in his school," she said.
Marion Teffera, who lives in Venice, said she was registering her 4-year-old daughter for kindergarten next year because "Santa Monica schools have an excellent reputation."
And Silvia Romo, a Venice resident who works for a medical supply company in Santa Monica, said she was transferring her two children to Santa Monica because of the cost of child care in after-school programs in Santa Monica was cheaper than in her neighborhood.
"I believe that my children will receive an excellent education, but my husband and I were also happy that the child care is affordable," she said.