The Murrieta Valley Unified School District had its first official discussion Thursday about becoming a district of choice.
The change would make it possible for students out of Murrieta boundaries to transfer in. Neighboring districts would not be allowed to deny the transfer on the basis of having comparable programs.
A California law passed in 1994 gave districts the option to declare themselves a district of choice. The law expired in 2009, bringing in Senate Bill 680. The new bill extends the “school district of choice” law until 2016, giving districts who had not filed as a district of choice before the chance to become one.
The new bill also gives districts of residence the power to limit out-of-district transfers if they rise higher than 3 percent of a district’s enrollment, or if too many transfer out, putting a district in adverse fiscal circumstances.
According to School Board President Robin Crist, two other school districts in Riverside County have recently passed resolutions to become districts of choice: Riverside Unified School District and Corona-Norco Unified School District.
Though officials made it clear that Thursday’s workshop was for discussion purposes only, Menifee resident Julie Zimmerman spoke to the school board, expressing her support if it were to happen.
Zimmerman said her children were attending Murrieta Valley Unified School District schools on inter-district transfers until they entered high school this year. A request for transfer out of the Perris Union High School District was denied, she said.
If Murrieta voted to become a district of choice, she said her children could attend their preferred school.
“It would make a difference to all of the students in Southwest Riverside,” Zimmerman said.
Murrieta officials said they have never limited the amount of transfers in or out of the district, or within.
“We’ve already been acting like a district of choice,” said Butch Owens, director of student support services for Murrieta.
A presentation given by Owens showed 1,020 transfers into Murrieta in 2009-2010 and 1,121 transfers this year. Transfers out of Murrieta totaled 1,028 in 2009-2010 and declined to 815 this year, with 95 transfers denied by receiving districts. Seventy-seven percent of transfers out of Murrieta were to Temecula. At the same time, 80 percent of transfers into Murrieta schools were Temecula students.
A lot of those have to do with residence or employment, Owens said.
“We’re about a wash with Temecula,” said Board Member Kris Thomasian, adding that becoming a choice district would “raise the bar for everybody.”
Assistant Superintendent Guy Romero said giving choice is not the only method to kick-start innovation within teachers and programs, but it does help.
“We are a strong district and there could become a sense of complacency. What choice does, is it creates an atmosphere where there has to be an absence of complacency,” Romero said.
Board member Margi Wray said that is something that should be happening simultaneously with these discussions, and that the district should be mindful of facilities and how many seats there would be available for students who choose to transfer in.
If too many requested transfers into the district, a lottery would be held. Transfer students who already attend school in the district would have to reapply and be part of that lottery, Owens said.
While SB 680 states that lotteries should be random and unbiased, preference can be given to military families and siblings. Transfers could however be denied if creation of a new program is required, officials said, but denial of special education and English-learner students based upon cost to educate the student is prohibited.
“It is a lot more complex than one might think,” said Superintendent Stan Scheer. “The law does more to complicate it than to help.”
A lot more work could come from being a district of choice, he said. Staff would have to follow more regulations, and make regular reports to county and state offices, as well as deal with the influx of transfer paperwork.
The board agreed to continue the discussion, but did not give a timeline for when a decision might be made.
Owens said when, and if it was approved, it could take a year to implement.
“We don’t want to give the impression that we’ve already made up our mind. For a long, long time we’ve never limited transfers,” Scheer said.
Maggie Avants is the education editor for SWRNN. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow SWRNNedu on Twitter!