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Students from outside Beverly Hills can remain in city schools

After learning a change in the district's funding mechanism is not imminent, the board votes to let about 500 holders of special permits stay. A trustee laments 'hatred' that surfaced over the issue.

March 12, 2009|Seema Mehta

After months of rancorous debate about what to do with non-Beverly Hills residents who attend the city's schools under special permits, trustees voted unanimously late Tuesday to allow them to continue.

"We're right back where we started, but our community is damaged because . . . all the hatred that was latent beneath the surface in Beverly Hills just came to the top," said Myra Demeter, a Beverly Hills Unified School District trustee. "We need to unify and get on with talking about education, learning and achievement."

The district receives $6,114 in state funding annually for each student it enrolls. For years, it has pumped up its coffers by issuing "opportunity permits" to non-residents. Although families applied for permits each year, in practice the permits were renewed if children kept their grades up and stayed out of trouble and there was space for them.

Those permits were called into question recently because Beverly Hills Unified is on its way to becoming one of the state's few "basic aid" districts, which means it will rely largely on local property taxes rather than state aid based on student attendance. And when it does, the district will no longer have a financial incentive to enroll non-residents.

School board members had agreed that no new opportunity permits should be issued but were split over what to do with nearly 500 existing permit holders. Brian Goldberg and Steven Fenton supported allowing them to remain until "natural breaks" at the end of each level of schooling. Demeter and Myra Lurie wanted to let the students finish high school. Nooshin Meshkaty wavered in between.

Trustees said the decision came partly because they learned last week that the shift to basic aid is unlikely to occur before 2015, in part because of two propositions on the May ballot that, if passed, would provide billions of dollars in new funding to California schools. Some trustees had believed the shift was imminent.

Fenton said this news, plus community sentiment, prompted him to support retaining the status quo for now.

"Everyone knows . . . there's a real possibility changes will be made once we hit basic aid," he said.

That's exactly what Julie Beenhouwer of Los Angeles fears. She pulled her four children out of Los Angeles magnet schools in 2007 to enroll them in Beverly Hills.

"I am very worried about the future," she said.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

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