ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District might look at revising its high school enrollment policies after a group of parents said the current system is keeping an increasing number of students from attending their neighborhood school, San Dieguito Academy.
Associate Superintendent Michael Grove said that he would recommend the school board create a task force to examine the district’s current policy to see if it needs to be change and explore the ramifications of any changes.
The school board will consider Grove’s recommendation at its board meeting on Thursday.
The announcement, made at a Monday workshop at Cardiff Elementary, comes a week after parents packed the district’s board room to protest the fact that the children who weren’t accepted to SDA were being forced to make a longer, traffic-filled commute to La Costa Canyon High School.
Parents have called on the district to consider changing both San Dieguito and Canyon Crest academies from open-enrollment schools to schools that would feed from the neighborhood, the model currently used at Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon.
One parent, Joel Rump, calculated that families would spend as much as $5,000 additional dollars in fuel and a full week more in their cars as a result of having to drive their kids to La Costa Canyon.
“Bottom line, the benefits of going to neighborhood schools are compelling,” Rump said. “And the drawbacks (to doing nothing) are pretty profound.”
Nearly 100 people attended the workshop, during which Grove and district Superintendent Rick Schmitt explained how the district’s current enrollment policies came to be, and the potential effects of a change.
Grove said the district has three choices: make all of the school neighborhood schools, make all of the schools open-enrollment schools or maintain the status quo. Changing the boundaries, he warned, would be a long and potentially divisive process.
“Redrawing boundaries is a politically fraught process,” Grove said.
The district’s current model for high schools was borne during the 1990s when the district was opening La Costa Canyon, and parents and administrators were concerned that the new high school create an ethnic and economic divide between the neighborhoods.
As a solution, the district changed San Dieguito from a neighborhood high school to an academy open to all students in the district that would have to apply for admission. The district continued with that model when it opened Canyon Crest in 2004.
Grove said that other districts have emulated San Dieguito’s open-enrollment model for new schools, including Mission Vista High School in the Vista Unified School District and Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad.
The district’s lottery process calls for each eighth grade student to declare one school as their school of choice. If more students apply for the two academies than the capacity allows, the district conducts a lottery. Students who live in the school district’s northern half who don’t get into their school of choice must attend La Costa Canyon, and those who live in the southern half must go to Torrey Pines.
Grove said the policy complies with the state’s laws governing open enrollment, which were enacted in 1993 to allow students to transfer from their neighborhood schools to other schools within their district, and conduct a lottery if demand exceeds capacity.
State rules don’t allow proximity of schools to give students priority in the lottery process.
Most years, the district is able to accommodate all of the requests, but this year, nine-percent of the district’s incoming ninth graders did not get into their school of choice, an eight-year high.
District officials said they don’t know what has fueled the surge in interest in the academies, and said they aren’t sure if it is a one-year blip or the start of a trend.
Grove did say that there has been an increasing interest in the academies and a dwindling enrollment at the district’s neighborhood schools.
Parents said the growth and changes within the district since the passage of the state law have put the district’s policy outside of the spirit of the state law.
“Let me get this straight: other students are being displaced because other students have the freedom to displace them?” Britta Brewer asked during the Monday workshop. “It’s time we rectified the intended sprit of the law, and regain equality of choice.”
Short of wholesale changes to the boundaries of the schools, Grove said district officials are looking at creating scheduling options that will allow academies to accommodate more students, as well as at making changes at the neighborhood schools to drive more students to them.
These changes, however, wouldn’t be ready for the start of the 2014-15 school year, Grove said.
Grove said that the district, prior to making any long-term changes, would have to consider long-term ramifications including dispersal of community facilities district taxes, changes in middle-school boundaries, socioeconomic and ethnic splits, long-term demographic shifts, and changes to programs that could also have a price tag.
This process, he said, would need to be district-wide, not just including San Dieguito parents.
“Right now, San Dieguito is open to all 12,000 students, so all of the families of our 12,000 high school students would need to be engaged in the conversation about what we want to do,” Grove said.