San Dieguito school district workshop discusses school boundaries, enrollment, program ‘equity’

The third of four high school enrollment workshops was held at Carmel Valley Middle School on March 12. The workshops are educating the community about the various ways to enroll students using options proposed by the high school enrollment study group.

The district also intends to survey parents on the best way to move forward and to remove some of the anxiety students face about getting into their first-choice school.

It is a tough task, as Michael Grove, associate superintendent of education services said: “There is no perfect solution that makes everybody happy.”

At the workshops, parents were broken into groups and asked to weigh the pros and cons of the enrollment study group’s five options.

The options were: boundaries for all schools, eliminating all boundaries, a mix of boundary and non-boundary schools (the current situation), small boundaries around each academy and small boundaries around each school, and no boundaries for the rest of the district.

Mark Caton, a parent member of the study group, said the group decided to present all possible options they discussed to the public rather then narrowing them down.

Caton said he decided to get involved because of the “unnerving” situation his son, a student at Solana Santa Fe School, might be facing getting into his choice school.

“I joined the group so I could get a handle on what I was hearing,” Caton said, noting he heard rumors along the lines of “you’ll never get in.”

He said the group was unbiased and as “exciting as you can imagine” with 42 people with a diversity of opinions.

San Dieguito High School Academy and Canyon Crest Academy are open boundary schools. If more students select a school than there are available seats, the district decides who gets in through a completely random lottery. No preference is given to proximity.

One parent said none of the group’s options seem to be getting at the real issue: “The question is, what’s driving students to choose the other schools? It’s more than just drawing lines,” the parent said, noting many kids want to attend the academies because they can take eight classes rather than six.

More classes means more options for AP classes or electives, and if Torrey Pines were made a more attractive and equal option, there might be less “unhappiness” with the selection process.

Grove said that personally, he agrees.

“Regardless of the ways we enroll kids into high school, we have to address programmatic equity,” he said. “I believe that the real issue is that two of the high schools can take eight classes and two can take six. In an increasingly competitive academic world, more students are drawn to a school that offers eight classes … Is the 4x4 (schedule) the best for every kid? I’m not sure. But the kids need to have the option to take more than six classes if they want to.”

Grove said there’s lots of ways the district can get to that equity between campuses. He said that even before the enrollment issue arose, the district was talking about changing the bell schedules because they recognize it is the No. 1 factor driving people to the academies.

The workshops were not intended to discuss enrollment for the 2015-16 school year, although the coming school year’s high school selection lottery was held March 12. Email notification of their students’ schools was scheduled to go to parents on Wednesday, March 18.

Student enrollment begins March 30, and students have until April 24 to register.

While the district will not release information on the numbers until that time, declarations for this year are almost identical to last year, the second year of that trend toward the academies, Grove said.

At the March 5 board meeting, Superintendent Rick Schmitt said the district feels good about the numbers and that they hope all students will get into their first-choice schools.

All freshmen students on the wait lists at Canyon Crest Academy and San Dieguito High School Academy were accepted last year (126 students at the former and 64 students at the latter).

Since 2008, 98 percent of students got into their first-choice school. In 2011-12, 512 students applied to San Dieguito and 112 were put on the initial wait list. Eventually 80 were accepted and 32 did not get in.

CCA also faced an influx in 2011-12 with 781 freshman applicants. Of those, 510 were accepted with an initial wait list of 271, and 221 did not get in. All 559 applicants got into the school in 2012-13 and the following year, CCA had 137 left on the wait list in 2013-14.

“Moving forward, things are going to get tighter, as we’re running out of space at the academies,” Grove said.

Most of the movement between schools is lateral, not vertical. Only 71 students in grades nine through 12 at CCA are from the north end of the district, and only 33 students at San Dieguito come from the south end of the district. Forty students moved vertically, with 20 attending La Costa Canyon and 20 opting to go to Torrey Pines.

People at the workshop questioned why everyone was allowed in last year.

Grove explained that one of the ways the district was able to find capacity was by looking at the master schedules.

“We walked the entire campuses with master schedules and did a facility efficiency study to figure out how to get more kids into the schools,” Grove said, noting that some rooms that were used for storage or prep were able instead to be used to add students.

Another factor was Prop AA funding. The district was able to accelerate plans to build another classroom building at CCA, moving the project from 2019-20 to the new classrooms being available in fall 2017. More capacity allows larger groups to be accepted into the school.

Parents wanted to know why the number of slots available at CCA is “secret.” “It seems like a black hole,” one parent said.

Grove said the number isn’t secret, but always changing — because of the numbers of students leaving or graduating. He said the district continues to work on facilities to create more space to admit more kids and also looks at schedules and programs.

Parents had questions about the legality of homeowners not being able to attend the school their Mello-Roos fees paid to build.

Grove said that the seats available at any particular school have to be at least equal to the percentage of the school cost funded by Mello-Roos. Roughly 53 percent of CCA was funded through Mello-Roos and about 20 percent of SDHSA was.

The district has the options to do a Mello-Roos lottery and non-Mello-Roos lottery, or do a completely random lottery and make sure that the Mello-Roos threshold is met schoolwide. The district takes the approach of the random lottery and has never come close to not meeting the threshold.

Also, Grove noted that every dollar spent from Prop AA monies to add to the school lowers the Mello-Roos percentage — so those 53 percent and 20 percent numbers will only continue to go down.