As one of seven trustees of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, it is my personal view that important facts were omitted regarding the transfer issue that petitioners from Cayucos are advocating. Your recent article (“Parents say Coast Union just too far,” June 14) highlighted two elements of the issue: the claimed “devastating” impact on the Coast Unified School District and the distance parents must drive. The facts tell adifferent story about impacts.
When students leave Cayucos Elementary School in the eighth grade, they are, by law, assigned to Coast Union High School in Cambria. The data reveals that, year after year, a majority of those students do not attend Coast Union. They come to San Luis Coastal and attend Morro Bay High School. Last year’s eighth grade class had 25 students; 15 of those students came to us. How many of these Cayucos students actually did go to Coast Union High?
San Luis Coastal, according to our enrollment data, had 66 students this past year in our schools (grades 9-12) who attended Cayucos Elementary in the eighth grade. Cayucos Elementary had only 95 eighth-grade graduates over the last four years. Sixty-six, or 70 percent, are enrolled in our schools. How does this happen if the legal destination is to go to Cambria?
There are three answers:
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A few students actually live in our district, but attended Cayucos Elementary on a transfer. These are the “legitimate” ones.
Some families claim Morro Bay addresses. It is highly improbable that this is truly the case.
Some students are in our schools on inter-district transfers. What is unfair about this last category is that San Luis Coastal denies requests to attend our schools from all new students coming from Cayucos. We do not receive any revenue to educate these students. To do otherwise shortchanges our students and the taxpayers who support our district. The county Board of Education, which has the power to overturn our denials, has routinely overruled our decisions and allowed these students into our district without funding. From 2007 until June 2012, the county has usurped our local authority and disregarded our policies in 27 of 32 cases regarding Cayucos students. The county board has said, repeatedly, it is acting “in the best interest of the students” by not sending them to Coast Union High School. What about the best interest of San Luis Coastal students?
So here is the big picture:
I had the painful job as a trustee to cut $4.8 million from our $76 million budget two weeks ago. We expect to cut another $5 million to $7 million next year. Meanwhile, the citizens of Cayucos are sending $1.2 million annually of their own property tax revenue to the Coast Unified School District for the purpose of educating their high school students. Coast Union freely grants permission to come to our district. Why not? They get the money anyway and we get the students.
What is being done with that money? It is certainly not used to educate the Cayucos students, for which it was intended. That money should follow the students.
San Luis Coastal has taken the high road. We have granted renewal transfers to students who already attend Morro Bay High. Why would we upset the education of a student who is already invested in the school community, playing sports, music or on a career path? We have established an internal system for appeals so that we can honestly assess each special situation. Most importantly, we have provided a quality education to everyone who walks through our doors, not letting politics get in the way of doing what is best for children.
But the gloves have to come off. Coast Union must stop sending their Cayucos students to our schools. The county Office of Education needs to stop usurping our authority to govern our district in the manner we have determined to be in the best interest of our students.
The better solution, supported overwhelmingly by the Cayucos community, is to change the “feeder” pattern. Send the property tax revenue with the students. San Luis Coastal cannot wait until 2014 at the earliest. This should be in front of the voters in the November election. The simple facts are sure to determine the outcome.
Notwithstanding the headline of the story, this is about fundamental fairness, not how many extra miles parents have to drive to school. The parents of students in all of the affected districts need to be heard.
Walter Millar serves on the San Luis Coastal Unified School District Board of Trustees.