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La Canada District to Pay for Illegal Students : Schools: A one-time deal will allow up to 20 students to remain in La Canada schools. Glendale Unified could receive up to $60,000.

March 12, 1992|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — In a controversial cash-for-student swap, La Canada Unified School District says it has agreed to pay Glendale Unified about $3,000 per pupil for up to 20 students who live in Glendale but are attending La Canada schools in violation of state law.

Glendale Supt. Robert A. Sanchis verified through a spokesman that the deal took place but refused to comment on it.

But La Canada officials defended their actions, saying they struck the one-time deal so that the students--many at La Canada High School--would not be uprooted at midyear. The deal could cost the district up to $60,000 at a time when La Canada, like many other school districts, already faces budget constraints.

Phil Kauble, an official with the Los Angeles County Department of Education who sat in on a Jan. 8 meeting between the two districts to resolve the issue, says the transfer of money is not illegal. Kauble says he knows of three similar deals between other districts in the last 15 years.

The payments reflect the amount of state money that Glendale would receive annually for the missing students, said La Canada Assistant Supt. Andrew Meyer. He added that the students will not be allowed back into La Canada Unified schools next year unless Glendale Unified approves transfers.

La Canada Unified serves 3,364 students who live in La Canada Flintridge, a tony bedroom community of 20,800 where the average home price is between $500,000 and $650,000. La Canada students regularly score in the top 4% on standardized tests.

Glendale Unified's 23,900 students, meanwhile, come from all economic strata in the city of 195,000. The district has significantly lower test scores.

News of the swap has angered parents of some La Canada students, who say it is unfair for La Canada Unified to let a select group of students flout the law so they can attend one of the top districts in Los Angeles County. Some parents also claim that the Glendale students have edged La Canada children off athletic teams.

"It's unfortunate that (some) kids in our district don't get the opportunity to play sports they'd like because kids from outside the district are on these teams," said Anne Browne of La Canada Flintridge, who has six children in La Canada schools.

"People have sacrificed to move here so their kids could go to La Canada schools, and I feel not everyone is getting a fair shake," said Browne, who last fall sat on a schools committee that evaluated out-of-district enrollment. "We're losing money on this."

The controversy surfaced last fall when an unidentified group of parents apparently tipped off Glendale officials that an increasing number of students were attending La Canada schools illegally.

Although La Canada officials deny it, some local parents say the district has for years looked the other way in order to collect state funds doled out based on the number of students enrolled.

Now, however, "it's gotten so blatant that it's a joke; they're using friends' addresses and everybody knows it," said one La Canada mother, who didn't want to be quoted by name because she fears retaliation against her children.

Some parents claim that up to 200 students from outside the district attend La Canada Unified schools. But school officials say that perhaps only nine to 20 students are enrolled illegally. District officials said they won't have a complete list until late March.

State law requires that enrolled students live with their immediate families within district boundaries. Exceptions are made for foster children and those placed in local homes by the courts, said Kauble, who is a county consultant for attendance and administrative services.

Additionally, Kauble said, students can attend elementary school in a district if their parents work within the school district boundaries, a practice utilized, for instance, by some employees of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the La Canada Flintridge-Pasadena boundary.

All such exceptions require authorization from the district in which the child resides. Kauble said La Canada officials apparently misunderstood the state law and allowed Glendale students who said they lived in La Canada Flintridge with family friends. La Canada officials also allowed in students who live outside the area but previously attended private schools in La Canada Flintridge.

La Canada officials now concede that they misinterpreted the law but say it is almost impossible for them to prove residency. "It's really difficult to verify where a child lives," Meyer said. "There are only two of us in the office, and we don't make home calls."

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