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Beverly Hills Unified school board votes to pull permits from 34 students

An exterior of Beverly Hills High School. Beverly Hills Unified's school board voted to pull permits from 34 fifth and eighth graders at its meeting Tuesday night (April 24, 2012).
An exterior of Beverly Hills High School. Beverly Hills Unified's school board voted to pull permits from 34 fifth and eighth graders at its meeting Tuesday night (April 24, 2012).

More than 30 students in Beverly Hills Unified's fifth and eighth grades will no longer be able to attend the district's schools this fall because they do not live within its boundaries, the school board voted late Tuesday night.

On Tuesday night the board rehashed what has been, and will be, revisited annually since a decision to end the district's permit program two years ago. It unanimously voted to provide no new permits for the 2012 school year unless the student is a child of a district or city employee. And as it did last year, the board voted to pull permits at the "natural breaking points" for fifth- and eighth-graders in the district, except for the children of city and district employees.

That means 17 fifth-graders and 17 eighth-graders will soon be receiving letters telling them that they cannot attend school in Beverly Hills Unified School district this fall, and will have to find a new school if they haven't already. Parents can appeal the decision with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which has already allowed a number of students back into the district in the past.

The 4-1 vote, with board member Lewis Hall the lone no vote, was the last item of the night at the roughly 4.5-hour meeting. With six people in the audience area of the nearly empty Salter Family Theatre on the Beverly Hills High School's campus, what had required 48 hours of public testimony by hundreds of community members a couple years ago, was resolved in about 20 minutes by a board vote and minor discussion at 11:36 p.m.

In early 2010, after acrimonious debate, the district ended its permit policy that had allowed hundreds of students who didn't live within its boundaries to attend its reputable schools. It was that same year that the district's local property tax revenues surpassed state funding under the average daily attendance model.

That meant the district became the first in L.A. County to switch over to a "basic aid" funding formula, and the district receives no money from the state to educate these permit students. Since their families don't live within its boundaries, the district doesn't receive their property tax dollars either.

Beverly Hills Unified currently has about 430 students out of the 4,600 district-wide who are in its schools on permits, according to district staff.

"A local school district has the right to establish our own interdistrict policy," said Beverly Hills Unified Superintendent Gary Woods. "We have to educate kids within our boundary; that's our mandate."

Board member Hall was the lone dissenting vote Tuesday night.

"I know you went through a lot I was not here for, and I respect that," Hall told his fellow board members cautiously at the end of the night. "I think the board members were applying what they felt was the best thing in terms of justice for the district and for the community, but I think it's important also to balance that with a sense of mercy."

Hall suggested the board allow students to stay so that it would be less "disruptive."

"And you just have to think that asking a student to leave is disruptive to them, I mean many of them, it’s difficult to find a school," Hall said. "They can’t get into private school now if they try to make that step now, that has to have happened months ago."

District staff could not provide an estimate of the cost to educate the additional students, but said it depended on the specific school site and how it would change staffing or program plans.

Board member Lisa Korbatov asked district staff about whether part-time employees were benefitting from the policy because they can send their kids to the district's schools on a permit exception. District policy requires employees work at least halftime in order for their children to qualify.

Korbatov grilled district staff on the numbers of employees who fell between halftime, but not quite fulltime. When she learned it was eight families, and possibly 13 children, Korbatov let out an exasperated sigh and said she would follow-up later. She told Hall she considered herself generous and strives to be charitable, but with her "own private money."

"This is not a charity, this is a school district," Korbatov said. "...We’re dealing with the public’s money, it’s taxpayer money. We are fiduciaries to the district, and so though we bring all our personal likes and dislikes to this seat…I’m very mindful I’m not spending my money."

She continued: "I would say to those parents, you’ve had many years of notice, I encourage you to...move in, sacrifice for your children...I don't want to feel sorry for these people. I feel sorry for kids on chemotherapy, I feel sorry for people with no food [but] it’s up to the parents to make the right decision."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).