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AB 523 ‘School of Choice’  for La Palma Fails to Get Out of Committee

Screenshot 2015-04-11 17.39.29POSSIBLE MEETING BETWEEN THE CITY AND THE FULLERTON AND ANAHEIM SCHOOL DISTRICTS COULD SOLVE PROBLEM LOCALLY.

By Brian Hews and Rico Dizon

It is has been an ongoing problem with parents and families of La Palma; and it will continue for at least another few months.

Many students in the city cannot go to the schools of their choice. For example, students living north of Houston Ave. are forced to attend Buena Park High School, which is over 4 miles away, rather than John F. Kennedy High School, which is only 1.25 miles away.

Kennedy has an API of 860, while Buena Park’s is 763.

The present day problem stems from La Palma’s past.  The city is a small community of only 1.8 square miles and 16,000 residents, making it the smallest city in Orange County. Yet, the city is served by five different school districts, two of which have no schools in La Palma.

Cypress, Centralia, Buena Park, Anaheim Union, and Fullerton High School District all lay claim to tiny La Palma.

And unfortunately, many students are assigned to schools not closest to their homes and not within La Palma.

School districts were formed long before the cities developed and have not changed much to adjust to the development. Prospective residents do not ask about schools or look at the closest school which may not be the home school based on the archaic boundaries.

Changing boundaries is very difficult and, due to state funding which is based on enrollment, school districts are often reluctant to allow students to transfer outside of the assigned district.

In early 2015, the city conducted a survey among residents north of Houston Ave. about legislation that could enable them to change their high school choice. The results revealed that a whopping 99.51% supported the legislation that would allow them to choose Kennedy High School in La Palma over Buena Park High.

Moreover, 49% of the 214 total respondents were willing to give their contact information just to continue advocating for the legislation.

Given this, AB 523 or the “Open Enrollment Act,” was introduced by Assemblywoman Young Kim (R-65th) and applied only to La Palma residents. Simply stated, “it would require a high school district serving residents of the city to approve a transfer if requested by a parent or guardian to allow a student to attend a high school within the La Palma city limits.”

In mid March, the City Council voted 5-0 to support the proposed legislation in conformity and solidarity with the residents.

Going one step further, Mayor Peter Kim and Mayor Pro Tem Gerard Goedhart travelled recently to Sacramento to represent the city. In La Palma, the two, along with the rest of the City Council, including the City Staff led by City Manager Ellen Volmert, urged the residents to get involved by participating via on-line discussions through the Community Voice in the city website and/or contact the City Council, Assemblywoman Kim, State Senator Huff, or the Assembly Education Committee and let them know their personal views on AB 523.

It did not work.

This past Wednesday, April 8, AB 523 was scheduled for hearing in the Assembly Education Committee. The bill did not make it out of committee, with Assemblywoman Kim the lone yes vote.

Voting no were all Democratic committee members with absolutely no connections to La Palma.

Chair Patrick O’Donnell (D-70th)-Avalon, Long Beach, parts of Los Angeles, San Pedro, and Signal Hill; Kevin McCarty (D-7th) is in Sacramento; Miguel Santiago’s (D-53rd) district is mostly East Los Angeles; Tony Thurmond’s (Dem-15) district surrounds Berkeley in northern California; and Shirley Weber who hails from San Diego County, all voted no.

Committee VP Rocky Chavez’

(R-76th) district is south of San Clemente, could not attend but was said to be in favor of the bill.

Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Kim, Bryan Shroyer, told HMG-CN, “we did ask for reconsideration, and we will hopefully have amendments to introduce next year if there isn’t a local solution.”

Shroyer said in a phone interview that Fullerton High School District has agreed to schedule a meeting with elected representatives in La Palma on this issue.

La Palma Mayor pro tem Goedhart confirmed that a meeting would take place between now and January.

Goedhart told HMG-CN, “we want to also deal with this on a local basis and Fullerton High School District, who is in charge of Buena Park High School, has agreed to meet with us in the coming weeks. This thing is not dead, we are progressing.”

Goedhart continued, “this is a local issue, between now and January hopefully we can work this out with our residents, if not we will go back to Sacramento.”

La Palma Mayor Peter Kim told HMG-CN, “unfortunately it did not make it out of committee, but we do have tentative commitments to meeting with the school districts, so it was not a total loss. The committee wants us to try and solve it locally and I believe we can do that.”

Kim went on to say, “some of the school district borders were drawn in 1893 and are very arbitrary. We are not asking for a change in the borders, just to give our kids a choice. We did a study and found that approximately 60 students might transfer and of those probably half would not transfer because they are Juniors and Seniors. If that is the case, it would only affect the district’s budget by 3/10ths of one percent, so I am optimistic we can solve this problem locally.”

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