There are two fundamental factors that refute the argument that the proposal for NUSD is seeking, or would inadvertently result in, a significant change in the demographic make-up of the five NUSD schools: 1) we are using MDUSD’s historical attendance boundaries for the boundaries of NUSD; and 2) we are proposing no changes to transfer policies that allow students from other neighborhoods to attend Northgate-area schools. In other words, we are doing nothing to reduce the student diversity that is currently enjoyed in our Northgate-area school communities.
Below are the before and after projections of the demographic make-up of the five NUSD schools, based on the 2015-16 student population reported on the California Department of Education website. As you can see, the proportions of whites and minorities barely change at all.
So how can NUSD be making our schools more “segregated” or “exclusionary’ if the schools will have almost the same demographic percentages as they have now? If critics feel they are segregated or exclusionary now, shouldn’t the criticism be directed at MDUSD, which has had total control over attendance assignments for the past 70 years?
Most students are assigned to a school based on their address, and NUSD uses the same geographic attendance boundaries that MDUSD used for our five schools. By definition, if you do not change attendance boundaries, the boundaries will not change the make-up of the students who live within those boundaries. And incidentally, the students who live within the five Northgate school boundaries have been trending more minority, and less white, by about .5%-1% per year.
Transfer students represent a different situation. Those are students from outside the Northgate area who voluntarily applied, and were permitted by MDUSD, to attend the five Northgate schools. The five schools have approximately 600 transfer students, or about 14% of the total student population. Our critics say that those students’ education would be disrupted by the creation of NUSD, but we have to ask: Why? They are already studying in the classrooms and are a part of our Northgate school community. Why disrupt that?
Under the California Education Code, those students, who are now intra-district transfers, would become inter-district transfers after NUSD becomes its own district. Under that code, if a student finds a place in another district – and we have made it clear that NUSD would have places available for transfer students – it is up to the home district to give permission for the student to transfer. In other words, MDUSD could prevent all of the so-called “disruption” from occurring, by simply allowing families to exercise the same choices that they have now. Why not do that?
Well, it’s “all about the kids” — until it’s “all about the money”. MDUSD would have to permit the transfer student’s state funding (about $8-9,000/yr) to accompany the student to the new district, so that the new district has the funds to educate that student. The key point here was made by MDUSD school board member Linda Mayo as the first commenter on Wednesday night: she said that in these tight economic times, no school district would give up a student’s funding. But Ms. Mayo is mistaken, perhaps because she has been so long in the bubble of MDUSD, which has a history of fighting inter-district transfer requests, tooth and nail. In fact, many districts permit students to leave with their funding. Districts with lots of popular schools do not worry about losing a few students, because there are other students, who for their own reasons, want to come into the district.
Transfer Policies in NUSD
After fighting for so long to escape the control of MDUSD, the founders of Northgate CAPS have no interest in creating another district that constrains parent choices. We are proposing a district that continues to accept considerable numbers of transfer students, up to each school’s capacity. And we expect NUSD to honor any parent’s request to enroll their student in another district’s school. We are not afraid of parent choices. We believe that NUSD will have to live up to parent expectations if it wants parents to stay in the district. There are two results for this policy:
Transfers from outside MDUSD – if MDUSD, for financial reasons, will not permit their students to continue to attend the five Northgate-area schools in NUSD, then the new district will be able to open those transfer spaces to students from elsewhere in the County. We think that there will be sufficient interest in NUSD schools to fill our available spaces. This is not “poaching students” from other districts, as one MDUSD speaker claimed at the second County Committee meeting. This would be giving families from diverse communities a choice to attend Northgate schools – a choice that would still have to be approved by their home district.
Highlands Elementary – Highlands currently has a split feeder pattern, where approximately half the 5th graders go on to Pine Hollow MS and half go on to Foothill MS in the NUSD territory. NUSD fixes that split by allowing all of the families who were eligible for Foothill to go to NUSD schools K-12. But NUSD will allow Highlands families to have their children remain in Highlands, which is closer, rather than go to an NUSD school. (Remember, NUSD district policy would be to permit outbound transfers, and we suspect that MDUSD, always eager for the revenue, would likely allow them to remain at Highlands.) In fact, those students could continue on to Pine Hollow MS, if MDUSD would allow them to stay in the district, and then to CVCHS, if they wished. Or they could attend NUSD schools, K-12. We believe that giving that choice to Highlands families who previously had no choice but to deal with a split feeder pattern is the right thing to do.
People at MDUSD sometimes have a difficult time understanding the choices that the proposal for NUSD wants parents to have, since MDUSD typically does NOT allow outbound inter-district transfers for families who want to attend a public school outside the district. The district takes that position because in California, the home district loses state funding for that student when s/he goes to another district. NUSD is willing to accept that loss. MDUSD is not.
Although critics have said that the creation of NUSD would suddenly “decimate” Highlands, the actual transition time from an election approving the new district to the new district becoming operational could be two years or more. This provides ample time for Highlands-assigned families residing within the NUSD boundaries to decide whether they want to attend NUSD schools K-12, or only for middle or high school, or not at all. During this time, MDUSD could assess how many families actually plan to leave the school. It could be a small number. Also, MDUSD could decide how they want to use the open seats in Highlands, which is a well-performing school in a district that has all too few of them. For example, they could create a magnet program to draw new students to the school from other schools that are more crowded, or lower-performing, or that offer fewer options. In other words, it could be an opportunity to make a good school even better.
Naturally, the critics of NUSD try to make this into an insoluble issue that should prevent the new district from being created, or even coming to a vote, but it is not. It will require some creativity on the part of MDUSD, but we believe the result could better for Highlands and better for students elsewhere in MDUSD.