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Students' Residency Scrutinized : Education: More than 100 students who may be illegally attending schools in the La Canada district are under investigation.

March 15, 1992|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pasadena school officials say they are investigating up to 110 students who live in Pasadena but who are attending school in the La Canada Unified School District in possible violation of state law.

The news comes on the heels of a controversial cash-for-student swap in which La Canada agreed to pay Glendale Unified about $3,000 per pupil for up to 20 Glendale students who illegally attend La Canada schools.

Pasadena officials say they are meeting with the students' families to see whether any of the children would qualify for exceptions to the state law that requires that students attend school where they reside.

Philip Linscomb, superintendent of Pasadena Unified, said he didn't know whether the district would press La Canada for $3,000 for each student found to be illegally enrolled or just insist that the students return to Pasadena next year.

"We're still looking at it," Linscomb said Thursday.

A La Canada official confirmed Thursday that the district has met with Pasadena and is conducting its own investigation, but the official would not comment further.

Earlier this week, however, La Canada Assistant Supt. Andrew Meyer said the district agreed to the one-time Glendale deal so students would not be uprooted in the middle of the year. The $3,000 reflects state funds that districts would receive annually for each missing student.

Phil Kauble, an official with the Los Angeles County Department of Education, said cash-for-student swaps are not illegal. Kauble said he knows of three similar deals in the past 15 years.

News that so many out-of-district students are attending La Canada schools has angered some La Canada parents, who maintain that the students have edged La Canada children off athletic teams.

"People have sacrificed to move here so their kids could go to La Canada schools," said Anne Browne of La Canada Flintridge, who has six children in La Canada schools. "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."

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.

Pasadena Unified's 22,080 students, meanwhile, come from all economic strata in the city of 132,000. The district has significantly lower test scores.

The controversy surfaced last fall when a Pasadena parent tipped off officials that students were attending La Canada schools illegally. Mark Facer, a consultant for Pasadena, said officials believe that some Pasadena parents falsified addresses.

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, a consultant for attendance and administrative services with the county education department.

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

All such exceptions require authorization from the district in which the child resides.

Although La Canada officials deny it, some parents say the district has for years looked the other way in order to collect state money 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 identified because she fears retaliation against her children.

Some parents maintain that there are up to 200 students from outside the district attending the city's schools, many at La Canada High School. La Canada officials, who say the figure is much lower, expect to have a complete list by late March.

Kauble said La Canada officials apparently misunderstood the state law and enrolled students who said they lived in La Canada Flintridge with family friends. La Canada officials also allowed the attendance of 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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