Private School Leakage

More than 1,000 local students attend area private schools
Gilroy – In the early morning, when Monterey Road is only sprinkled with cars, Ernie Filice drives his daughter to Morgan Hill.

There, at the Tennant Avenue Safeway shopping center, between the bagel shop and the theaters, Filice and a couple of parents show up to swap driving duty.

While her Gilroy High School friends are still showering and selecting outfits, Montina Filice is already on her way to Archbishop Mitty High School, a co-ed Catholic school in San Jose.

“It was a little bit hard at first and the second week of school just exhausted me,” said the 14-year-old freshman.

But Montina has learned how to cope with the half-hour drive.

“I take naps in the car on the way up and on the way back,” she said. “I find I can sleep in the car very easily now.”

Montina is one of at least 1,180 locals enrolled in a private school.

For the Gilroy Unified School District that translates to a loss of more than $6 million in average daily attendance this year. Projected ADA for the 2005-2006 school year is $5,139.25 per student or about $40 a day. School districts receive ADA funds everyday for every student sitting in the classroom.

But Steve Brinkman, GUSD assistant superintendent, said “it’s very misleading to say we’re losing $5,100 per student,” because of private school leakage.

The school district does receive money for every student in the form of ADA from the state, but GUSD still has to offer a myriad of services and house the kids once they arrive, said Brinkman.

A thousand extra students, depending on their grade level, could translate to two new schools. And if the students all happen to live in or around the same neighborhood, then the district would really be in trouble.

“All the rest of our schools are impacted,” said Brinkman “So, basically, where would we put these kids? Quite frankly, we don’t have space for them.”

An avalanche of private school students would overwhelm GUSD, said Brinkman.

But it doesn’t appear that Brinkman has much to worry about.

Dina Campeau and her husband spend $21,000 a year to send their two children to Oakwood Country School in Morgan Hill and Presentation High School in San Jose because they think the private schools are more responsive to their needs than Gilroy’s public schools.

“And that’s why I’ve chosen to go ahead and spend a boatload of money,” Campeau said.

When the Campeaus were living in Texas, her children attended public schools. The Dispatch columnist said she was impressed with the Austin school system.

But when her family moved back to California and settled in Morgan Hill, she visited local public schools and wasn’t impressed, mainly because the classes were too large. As a Catholic, she decided to send her daughter to St. Catherine’s Catholic School in Morgan Hill. But the classes were too crowded, so Campeau pulled her daughter out and sent her to Oakwood.

Her son is now in his last year at Oakwood and her daughter is a senior at Presentation, which is an all-girls Catholic school.

Because she had gone through the experience herself, last year Campeau wrote a column for this newspaper asking parents to tell her why they chose private schools. Campeau also called 28 private schools and asked for the number of residents from Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Martin.

Campeau didn’t get numbers from 10 private schools, including Holy Family and Holy Spirit catholic schools, two institutions which she said have a healthy amount of local students.

The data she compiled revealed that 1,082 Morgan Hill/San Martin and 1,180 Gilroy residents are attending private schools. Of those, 305 Morgan Hill/San Martin and 344 Gilroy students are attending private high schools.

Through her research, Campeau discovered that there are three main reasons parents send their children to private schools: better discipline, more challenging curriculum and better responses from school staff.

Many parents said “private schools take action on discipline issues, in contrast to public schools which seem paralyzed by fear of parental and public retaliation,” said Campeau.

And many parents echoed Campeau’s opinion that at private schools the parent’s voice is heard and valued more.

GUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz said that’s not surprising, since private schools tend to be much smaller. Gilroy High School has about 2,500 students compared to Mitty’s 1,700.

Also, Diaz said private schools can focus solely on academic programs.

“The scope of what we deal with is a lot broader,” he said.

Public schools have to educate at-risk, special education and English language learners.

And, many parents said they consider private schools more competitive.

But Campeau said she doesn’t necessarily agree that, say, Presentation, is more difficult than GHS.

And neither does Montina Filice.

“Most of the friends I talk to are in accelerated classes and most find their classes challenging,” she said.

Montina attended Rucker Elementary and Brownell Middle School before she transferred to Mitty. The freshman, who plays both the flute and the saxophone in Mitty’s band, said she was enrolled in the Gifted and Talented Program at Brownell and it was challenging.

“I had really good teachers and really good classes there and I really liked Brownell,” she said.

Montina’s father Ernie Filice said he likes the discipline and college prep focus at Mitty.

“They have their rules and if you break them you’re out of there,” he said, referring to a recent incident when a student was expelled for cheating. “We just like the educational possibilities there and the fact that their concentration is more geared toward getting a kid to college.”

Filice’s older daughter, who attended Presentation, is a freshman at University of Southern California.

Although many of the private schools are Catholic, few parents listed religion as their main reason for choosing private over public schools, said Campeau.

But they’re out there.

Frank McGill’s sent all three of his children to parochial schools mainly for the religious focus. Two of his children attend St. Mary Catholic School and one is a freshman at Notre Dame High School in San Jose.

“We definitely wanted the Catholic education,” said the Gilroy resident and commercial pilot. “The school is centered around Catholics and it teaches traditionally Catholic values and morals throughout it’s curriculum.”

But as a product of public schools – he attended public middle and high school in San Francisco – McGill has respect for public schools and thinks he received a stellar education.

“Even in Gilroy some people shun the schools and I don’t think that’s fair,” he said, noting that he’s seen many successful students emerge from Gilroy schools.

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