2017-04-07 / Editorials

State program creates a ‘system of favoritism’

Guest Opinion /// District of Choice
By Jason Peplinski
Special to the Acorn

Peplinski Peplinski I wish to take this opportunity to clarify exactly what our board and district are standing up for regarding the District of Choice law.

In a March 24 article that ran in the Simi Valley Acorn, it was said the program “makes it easier for parents to pull their children out of low-performing schools and . . . is to blame for a significant drop in Simi Valley Unified School District enrollment over the years.”

This statement is factually wrong. The program that our school board has opposed is District of Choice, not school choice. DOC has nothing to do with low-performing schools and is only one of many factors contributing to declining enrollment in our district and neighboring public school districts.

In the California public school system, there are three ways a student can attend a public school. The first: If you are a resident of the school district, then you just enroll as a student. Within our own district, we have Schools of Choice, which allows students to enroll in schools outside their neighborhood as long as the target school has room for that student. We fully support Schools of Choice, as evidenced by the 40 percent of Simi Valley students who attend a school that is not their neighborhood school.

The second way is through the process of inter-district transfers, which allows a student to apply to attend a school district that is not their resident district. This requires the approval of both their home district and the district they wish to attend, and it’s a regular practice within SVUSD and neighboring districts. All public school districts participate in inter-district transfers, including those also involved in the District of Choice program.

The third process—and it’s the only one at issue—is District of Choice, which is a designation granted to a very small number of California public school districts that have demonstrated declining enrollment. Under DOC rules, the designated district can actively recruit and enroll students from neighboring districts without acquiring the home district’s approval.

District of Choice affects roughly 10,000 students statewide. These DOCs often do not reflect the same demographic makeup as the districts that surround them.

By not requiring families to first apply for a release from our district, we have no way of knowing why these families are seeking other public education options. As well, many times these families don’t know that we have many, if not most, of the programs they are seeking elsewhere.

On a more philosophical level, we believe it is inappropriate for our state legislators to create a system of favoritism among certain school districts, which is what has happened.

When SVUSD started wrestling with declining-enrollment issues—partly through District of Choice, partly through a misperception of the quality of education available locally, and mostly because of declining birth rates and the closure of several large local businesses—we had to take a step back and look at what we could do to slow that trend. The answer was simple: better serve our families’ needs.

With the unending support of our school board and incredible staff, we’ve worked hard to increase and improve unique educational opportunities (Pathways, International Baccalaureate, JROTC, medical sciences, Connected Learning Programs, world languages, performing and fine arts, technology at all schools and more) so our families are better served. Student achievement is up, staff morale is increased, and while there is always room for improvement, we are thrilled with the changes we’ve experienced in the last few years.

If you are a Simi Valley resident with students in our schools, you, too, should oppose District of Choice. We estimate that District of Choice has cost SVUSD about $4 million in annual revenue. This is money we could have used to increase school counselors, reduce class sizes and bring on more intervention specialists to help our students. This is why we are opposed to District of Choice. It literally takes money away from our students through a process that gives us no recourse, because another district has gained special privileges from the state. All districts should be held to the same rule book.

Just as our board is responsible for managing our district’s resources and protecting our schools from political influences that might undermine our efforts, so am I charged with protecting and defending our staff and the incredible work they do every day to care for and teach our students, often in the face of criticism. Every day I spend time in our schools and watch the amazing experiences our students receive from our staff, and I leave these encounters knowing we are serving our community with excellence. I could not be more proud to be the superintendent for SVUSD.

We have an open-door policy and are always available to anyone wanting to learn more about our schools or discuss issues of concern. Our school board members, my staff and I welcome all conversations, even on the hard topics, because we are that confident in our schools, staff and students. Please feel free to reach out to me if any additional clarification is needed.

The superintendent can be reached at jason.peplinski@simivalleyusd.org or (805) 306- 4500 ext. 4002.

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