The Cambrian

Agreement to let North Coast kids change schools not expected to disrupt districts

Graduates, family and friends gather outside the Coast Union High School gymnasium following the 2017 graduation ceremony.
Graduates, family and friends gather outside the Coast Union High School gymnasium following the 2017 graduation ceremony.

A landmark agreement on student transfers isn’t expected to cause a large influx or exodus for any of the three North Coast school districts involved, their superintendents said Thursday.

Parents of some Cayucos Elementary School students have long sought the ability to send their kids to Morro Bay High School, which is about a third the distance of Coast Union in Cambria.

But Eric Prater, superintendent of San Luis Coastal Unified, said Thursday he doesn’t to see a large number of new students arriving from Coast, and Cayucos Superintendent Scott Smith agreed.

“For Cayucos 6-8 (grade) students, I don’t see much change,” Smith said. “Annually, we have a few Cayucos 6-8 students attend school in the other districts, and they send us a few. All three districts have such great programs, so students will most likely continue in the current enrollment trends.”

Vicki Schumacher, superintendent of Coast Unified, said her district has been granting transfers to San Luis Coastal on request for the past four or five years.

Money matters

The big difference, under the new agreement, involves money.

Before the agreement, San Luis Coastal (which operates Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo high schools) didn’t get reimbursed for accepting transfers from Coast Union in Cambria.

The deal, Smith said, “will alleviate the stress of the possibility that San Luis Coastal will no longer be able to accept them for free after the loss of Diablo Canyon revenues.”

The nuclear power plant is scheduled to close in 2025.

The agreement “allows for funding to follow the students to the schools they want to attend,” Coast Unified President Samuel Shalhoub said in a board statement read at the district’s monthly meeting Feb. 8.

All three districts have such great programs, so students will most likely continue in the current enrollment trends.

Scott Smith, Cayucos superintendent

At that meeting, the Coast board ratified the deal on a 5-0 vote, becoming the last of the three boards to approve the deal.

The deal will cost Coast Unified an estimated $550,000 in revenues over three years, district Superintendent Vicki Schumacher said after that meeting. That’s a lot of money for a district feeling a budget pinch triggered largely by fast-rising retirement costs.

But it could have been a lot worse, Schumacher said: Had the districts been unable to reach an agreement, there was talk of a legislative solution that could have cost the district $1.6 million.

The three-way deal involving the districts “is really the best possible solution.”

“There’s a lot of goodwill now across the three communities,” she said.

Smith agreed: “I believe this will open a new era of partnership between the districts that will definitely benefit the students.”

By the numbers

Coast Union is by far the smallest of the three high schools affected by the agreement, with about 250 students. Morro Bay has an enrollment of more than 800, and SLO High more than 1,400.

Figures provided by Valarie Harrigan of San Luis Coastal broke down current transfer rates for students who moved from Cayucos, Cambria and Harmony into her district’s schools. Sixty of those 65 transfer students are in grades 9-12, compared with just five students in grades 6-8. Here’s the breakdown:

▪  49 Cayucos students had transferred from CUSD to Morro Bay High.

▪  7 Cayucos students had transferred from CUSD to SLO High School.

▪  3 Cambria students had transferred from CUSD to Morro Bay High.

▪  2 Cayucos Elementary students and 1 Cambria eighth-grader had transferred from CUSD to Los Osos Middle School.

▪  2 Harmony students had transferred from CUSD to Morro Bay High.

▪  2 Cayucos Elementary students had transferred from CUSD to Laguna Middle School.

Future trends

How many students might be affected in the future? It’s hard to tell, Schumacher said.

“Moving forward, we do not know how many additional or fewer parents might submit interdistrict transfer requests for their children in 2018-19,” she said. “For example, eight eighth-grade students from (the Cayucos Elementary district) participated recently in a tour of Coast Union High School.”

If all those students wound up attending Coast Union, she said, it could mean a reduction in the number of Cayucos students requesting transfers to San Luis Coastal high schools next year.

Schumacher said the Cambria-based district is working to let students and their parents know about the advantages of attending Coast Unified schools.

“Our Coast Union High School colleagues, students, parents and I are working together to share many of the valuable opportunities our students have in learning, athletics and the arts.”

The process

Parents who want to pursue a transfer for their students are “still subject to the standard interdistrict attendance policies of each district,” Smith said.

Smith said his district is working on a parent guide to clarify the process and the timelines involved.

“We are still working out the details for mechanizing the transfer process between the three districts,” Prater said. “I expect a simple process which will be available on our website in the near future.”

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