2012-03-09 / Front Page

Oxnard Union takes hard line against out-of-district transfers

By Roxanne Estrada

When Camarillo resident Janet Friedrichs and her husband applied in January for an out-of-district transfer so their eighth-grade daughter could attend Newbury Park High School next fall, they figured it was a slam dunk.

They were wrong.

The Friedrichs’ request was one of 94 denied by the Oxnard Union High School District in the past month as the cashstrapped district seeks to stem the flow of students leaving OUHSD by tightening regulations for transfers.

Though the Friedrichs subsequently won their appeal to the Ventura County Board of Education, Janet said she was frustrated OUHSD made her go through so much just so her 13-year-old daughter could pick the school that fit her best.

“(The district) didn’t really think it through and it’s a shame it was handled this way because it created a lot more friction in the community,” Janet Friedrichs said. “I’m not knocking or trying to insult (Camarillo High School), but I want something different for my child. We want the right to choose.”

Breaking a trend

For years, parents in the Santa Rosa Valley and in neighborhoods like Mission Oaks on the eastern edge of Camarillo have made the decision to send their children to the neighboring Conejo Valley Unified School District for high school, primarily to Thousand Oaks or Newbury Park.

Those schools offered not only a shorter commute, but also block schedules and some programs, such as NPHS’ International Baccalaureate program, that were not available at Camarillo and Rio Mesa high schools.

“Many of those families (in eastern Camarillo) see Newbury Park High School as their school, and those in the upper Santa Rosa Valley see Thousand Oaks as their high school,” said CVUSD Superintendent Jeff Baarstad. “We loving serving them and we’d like to continue to serve them.”

So far this year, OUHSD has received about 200 requests for out-of-district transfers, mostly from Camarillo families who want their children to attend schools in CVUSD.

Oxnard Union Superintendent Gabe Soumakian says the trend is hurting the district because OUHSD is losing not only bright students, but thousands of dollars in annual per-pupil state funding as well.

Oxnard Union, a district of 16,000, gets $7,500 for every student enrolled.

“It’s past practice and public perception of (OUHSD) that some truly believe that (CVUSD) can offer a better education,” Soumakian said. “We want to keep our students who live in our community here and we want to provide them with strong programs.”

To curb the tide of students leaving the district, OUHSD began offering an IB program at Rio Mesa in 2008. In addition, Camarillo High has improved its API score considerably over the past few years, was named a California Distinguished School in 2009 and earned a place among Newsweek’s top 500 high schools last year.

To tout these accomplishments, Soumakian said, the district has focused heavily on public relations.

“We want to get the word out about how well our schools are performing and change that public perception,” Soumakian said.

By the numbers

Still, OUHSD saw more than 300 students leave for schools in the Conejo Valley.

About 320 students requested to leave OUHSD last year, down from 380 in 2010-11 and 340 in 2009-10. By comparison, Baarstad said about 50 students per year apply for out-of-district transfers in CVUSD—a district of 21,000 students—primarily to attend Las Virgenes Unified or Oak Park Unifi ed.

In response to the growing number of transfers, Oxnard Union adopted a memorandum of understanding in January to give parents clear guidelines regarding the types of situations that allow for an out-of-district move, Soumakian said.

Previously, the district had no out-of-district transfer policy, and most requests were automatically approved, he said.

Under OUHSD’s new transfer regulations, students can be automatically approved only if an out-of-district school has a program or service not offered in the district, if the student’s sibling attends another school outside the district, or if the student’s parent works at least 10 hours each week in the desired district.

If none of these circumstances applies, the OUHSD school board will likely reject the student’s request to leave the district.

Parents upset

Under its new policy, the local high school district has approved just 51 percent of this year’s out-of-district transfer requests—about 100—forcing more and more parents to appeal to the county. The county board of education approved transfers for a majority of those who appealed.

At last week’s hearing before the county board, parents gave several reasons for wanting their child to attend a school outside OUHSD.

For the Friedrichs, it was their daughter’s desire to attend a school with block scheduling and with an on-campus performing arts center, a combination not available in OUHSD. None of the district’s three highs schools offers block scheduling and only Pacifica High in Oxnard has its own PAC.

But Janet, who suffers from cancer, said driving her 13-yearold from their Mission Oaks home to Oxnard for school every day is not an option.

Santa Rosa Valley resident Cathy Warburton said she plans to “jump through the hoops” of the district’s new rules so her two younger sons, students at Santa Rosa Technology Magnet School, can follow in their sibling’s footsteps and attend Thousand Oaks High School instead of ACHS.

“We want to carry on the family tradition of going to Thousand Oaks High School,” she said.

Warburton said she can drive two miles from her house to drop off her youngest son at Santa Rosa TMS and then shoot over to TOHS, which is three miles away, as opposed to driving nine miles to ACHS. Warburton’s eldest son is a freshman at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks so he, too, could drop off his younger brother at TOHS.

None of these factors is taken into consideration for a transfer request, Warburton said, so she is in the process of leasing office space in the Conejo Valley to qualify for the transfer.

“We moved out of Los Angeles so our children can attend their local public school,” Warburton said. “We don’t want to send our kids to fancy private schools because we believe they can get a great education at a public school.”

‘Extra burden’

The Ventura County Board of Education will hear at least six more appeals from students requesting a release from Oxnard Union on March 26 at 6 p.m.

County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth said the county’s job is to stay neutral but he understands Oxnard Union’s reasons for wanting to prevent more students from leaving.

“It’s an extra burden upon the board (to hear the appeals), but (OUHSD) is well within its rights,” Mantooth said. “The district has an interest in preserving their student population and providing them opportunities within their own school district.”

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