L.A. school board OKs ‘one-stop shop’ en­roll­ment

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Howard Blume

Any par­ent who has tried to find the right pub­lic school knows the frus­tra­tions of the Los An­ge­les Uni­fied School District: the search for seem­ingly se­cret knowl­edge, the de­cod­ing of jar­gon that might once have been English and the handme-down lore from one gen­er­a­tion of par­ents to the next.

With a lit­tle luck, a lit­tle skill and $24 mil­lion, things should soon be get­ting bet­ter.

Pressed by L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King, the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Tues­day unan­i­mously ap­proved an en­roll­ment sys­tem that should al­low stu­dents and fam­i­lies to ap­ply to just about any schools they choose at the same time, through one on­line ap­pli­ca­tion. The project is cen­tral to King’s strat­egy for re­vers­ing years of de­clin­ing en­roll­ment. And reg­is­ter­ing more stu­dents is needed to help keep Los An­ge­les Uni­fied fi­nan­cially sol­vent.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” said King, who said par­ents have de­scribed the nu­mer­ous dif­fer­ent en­roll­ment pro­cesses in the cur­rent sys­tem as “too con­fus­ing.”

“The idea was that we have to bring ev­ery­thing

to­gether in one space at one time so that all par­ents can have ac­cess and knowl­edge about what’s hap­pen­ing in our district,” King said.

Board mem­ber Richard Vladovic said he was con­cerned about the cost but ac­cepted the project as part of a “strate­gic ef­fort” to in­crease en­roll­ment.

Get­ting the go-ahead on Tues­day was cru­cial for the district to have any el­e­ments of the new sys­tem ready by the fall.

King had wanted board ap­proval last month but waited be­cause she wasn’t sure then that she had enough votes.

What is ex­pected to be ready by Oc­to­ber will be mod­est.

Dur­ing a six-week win­dow, par­ents should be able to fill out a sin­gle on­line ap­pli­ca­tion to ap­ply to three op­tions for the 2018-19 school year: mag­net pro­grams, dual-lan­guage pro­grams and a small per­mit pro­gram that al­lows mi­nor­ity stu­dents to at­tend a school in an­other part of the district if their en­roll­ment would pro­mote racial in­te­gra­tion. Other district op­tions are sup­posed to be added over the fol­low­ing two years.

Some of L.A. Uni­fied’s most pop­u­lar pro­grams are mag­nets, which also were orig­i­nally de­signed to pro­mote in­te­gra­tion.

Dual-lan­guage schools aim to make English speak­ers flu­ent in an­other lan­guage while also help­ing non-English speak­ers pre­serve and en­hance na­tive­lan­guage skills.

In­de­pen­dent char­ter schools are not cur­rently part of the on­line en­roll­ment plan, and it ap­pears un­likely that the cur­rent board ma­jor­ity would have ap­proved a pro­posal that in­cluded char­ters.

Out­go­ing board mem­ber Mon­ica Ratliff said she is not anti-char­ter, but “if you open this to char­ter schools, then you might as well just not do this. This should be about in­creas­ing en­roll­ment in district schools.”

If the ef­fort re­cruited 2,383 more stu­dents to district schools, she added, “this would pay for it­self.”

Board mem­ber Ge­orge McKenna nearly voted against the plan out of con­cern about un­in­tended con­se­quences, in­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that tra­di­tional cam­puses could suf­fer from “un­fair” com­par­isons with char­ters.

Char­ters are pri­vately op­er­ated and ex­empt from some rules that gov­ern tra­di­tional cam­puses.

About 16% of district stu­dents at­tend char­ters, which are pop­u­lar with many par­ents and com­pete with L.A. Uni­fied for stu­dents.

Re­sis­tance to in­clud­ing char­ters could crum­ble as soon as next month, when two board mem­bers backed by char­ter sup­port­ers take of­fice. It isn’t clear, how­ever, whether all or most char­ters would want to be in­cluded in the district’s sys­tem.

Board Pres­i­dent Steve Zim­mer, who, like Ratliff, will be leav­ing the board, sug­gested that char­ters be specif­i­cally ex­cluded: “Let us cod­ify right now this is for our LAUSD school fam­i­lies.”

The board stopped short of that ap­proach but backed a re­vi­sion that ex­cludes char­ters dur­ing the ini­tial three-year roll­out.

An­other re­vi­sion spec­i­fies spe­cial as­sis­tance for district schools that com­pare poorly to other schools based on aca­demic per­for­mance.

When ques­tioned at an ear­lier meet­ing, district man­agers head­ing the project could not cite a school district in which a uni­fied en­roll­ment sys­tem in­creased en­roll­ment, but they ex­pressed op­ti­mism and stressed the im­por­tance of pro­vid­ing im­proved ser­vice to fam­i­lies.

Board mem­ber Mon­ica Gar­cia of­fered strong sup­port.

“There is more suc­cess in some of the schools I rep­re­sent than the neigh­bor­hood knows about,” Gar­cia said. “We can cre­ate al­ter­na­tives or keep let­ting oth­ers cre­ate the al­ter­na­tive. … You’ve got to take a risk.”

The district’s web­site cur­rently of­fers a ba­sic search that al­lows par­ents to en­ter their ad­dresses and learn the names of their neigh­bor­hood el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high schools. But the search doesn’t pull up nearby schools that have avail­able seats. It also doesn’t men­tion par­tic­u­lar cam­puses with spe­cial pro­grams.

Var­i­ous district pro­grams also have their own ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses, forms and time­lines.

Many fam­i­lies don’t have the means or time to ac­quire the nec­es­sary knowl­edge.

The re­vamped on­line en­roll­ment sys­tem will be lo­cated at ap­ply.lausd.net, which al­ready has use­ful, if lim­ited, in­for­ma­tion.

Though the district wants to move be­yond pa­per ap­pli­ca­tions, the new sys­tem still will al­low fam­i­lies to ap­ply on pa­per if they choose to or lack In­ter­net ac­cess.

‘The idea was that we have to bring ev­ery­thing to­gether in one space at one time so that all par­ents can have ac­cess.’ — Michelle King, L.A. Uni­fied su­per­in­ten­dent

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