GUSD cracks whip on transfers

Gilroy Unified School District

Parents who attempt to skirt the Gilroy Unified School District’s residency requirements – which dictate what high school a student must attend – should keep in mind: Administrators are cracking down against dishonesty. 

Efforts to sidestep GUSD’s residency rules have been on the district’s radar since the multimillion-dollar Christopher High School opened in 2009, according to GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores. It’s a common issue in any district with more than one high school, she explained.

“We’ve been aware of it since the first year, and each year we’ve tightened up our process,” said Flores. “So many parents have complained to me directly and Alma Quintana (the district’s enrollment administrator) about this issue.”

Several parents have also called, emailed and left anonymous comments on the Gilroy Dispatch’s website over the past couple of years, alleging various “unfounded” cross-town transfers from Gilroy High School to CHS. Others have voiced frustration over the “little oversight to the rampant abuse of the residency boundaries to ensure children attend Christopher High over Gilroy High.”

Due in part to the bevy of “very upset parents this past year when we denied their transfer requests” – there were 23 CHS transfer requests denied this year – GUSD recently implemented an additional process Flores says will help the district get “better and better” at enforcing the rules, which state students must attend the high school located within the designated boundaries of where they live.

The boundary lines that determine attendance at CHS or GHS are established near the areas of First Street, Hecker Pass and Leavesley Road, according to Flores.

This year, the district created a database that analyzes where students lived in the seventh and eighth grades. Staff studied that data to see if it correlated with the respective high school where each freshman student enrolled.

GUSD found 29 discrepancies after utilizing their new method for the first time this summer. Notices were subsequently sent to those families, requesting additional residency verification in addition to what was initially required during enrollment.

“We just wanted to ask the parent, can you bring us additional proof?” Quintana explained.

Flores said 17 of those families were able to provide the required documentation, such as proof of a new rental agreement or having purchased a home. The other 12 families have not produced documentation as of Monday, “so we can only assume that they can’t, and therefore they will be attending GHS,” said Flores.

She also notes: The door swings both ways. Other students, for their own reasons, prefer to bleed blue and be a Mustang.

Between 2009 and 2012, the district also approved 91 transfers from students living in the CHS attendance area who wanted to attend GHS, according to Flores.

Following the $11.3 million in renovations that began this summer at GHS and will continue through summer 2013, GHS Principal Marco Sanchez says the boost in campus aesthetics should play a major role in attracting families, rather than deterring them. Given the recent makeover, “I think another year will probably be the last time we see more than 20 requests (to transfer to CHS),” he said.

Sanchez recalls two years ago a parent who walked onto GHS and disapprovingly surveyed the campus before declaring, “I am not enrolling my student in this school.”

“They just turned around and walked out the gate,” said Sanchez, who was within earshot. “I wanted to chase her down and say, ‘please give us a chance.’ To me it was a wake-up call – that we definitely needed to do something about the image of our school.”

What many parents don’t understand, Flores added, is that residency requirements serve to maintain an enrollment balance at each high school. Ensuring that individual course enrollments stay a manageable student-teacher ratio is critical.

“Last year, CHS ended up with very high enrollments in a lot of classes,” said Flores, citing instances of 38 to 39 students per class. “And we just can’t let that happen. Parents will say to me, ‘oh, it’s just one child.’ And I’ll say, ‘no, it’s not just one child.’ That impacts course enrollments, and we have to be very careful of that.”

This year, there are about 1,437 students enrolled at GHS and roughly 1,692 students enrolled at CHS, although Flores said Monday the figure for CHS could be lower. As of Monday, more than 200 CHS students had not picked up their schedules yet, she said.

In 2011-12, 860 students attending CHS and 1,124 students attending GHS identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, according to the California Department of Education.

Per the district’s residency verification requirements, parents who own property on which they reside must supply a county tax bill or escrow papers in their name that shows the property address of the residence. They must also supply a utility and telephone bill, plus one other bill of choice or a current DMV vehicle registration.

Property renters must provide current lease or rental agreements for their place of residency and copy of the most recent rental payment, plus a utility, telephone bill and one other bill mailed to that address.

As for transfer requests, these have to be approved by Flores on a case-by-case basis.

From 2009 to 2012, approximately 292 requests for transfers from CHS to GHS were submitted to the district office. Of those, 66 were approved and 226 were denied.

Reasons for approval break down as follows:

– 9 percent: The student was a child of a CHS teacher

– 6 percent: The student moved to, or from the attendance area

– 38 percent: The student was the sibling of another student already enrolled at CHS

– 47 percent: Special documented circumstances (for example, divorce)

In the event a parent or family is found to have been dishonest about their place of residence, protocol allows the student to finish out the rest of the year before switching to the correct school, Flores said. There are no additional consequences.

As for certain problem areas, the Dispatch has received several anonymous complaints claiming that households in the upscale Eagle Ridge development west of Santa Teresa Boulevard – which falls inside the GHS boundary lines – were skirting the rules.

When asked if the issue was largely concentrated in this particular neighborhood, Flores confirmed Eagle Ridge is one of the locales that comes up during complaints – although the area is not isolated by any means. Flores heard complaints regarding “all over the attendance area,” including housing developments near the areas of Gavilan College, Luchessa Avenue and Santa Teresa Boulevard.

When allegations do arise, it’s usually in the form of a rebuttal from irked parents whose transfer request has just been denied. Flores says a common response is, “I don’t think this is fair that you’re denying my transfer request … I know my neighbor isn’t telling you the truth,” she said, giving a general example.

As long as those families in question have submitted the acceptable documentation, however, “we have to treat this globally,” Flores explained. “I believe this additional step we took this summer is addressing the issue.”

While actual home visits haven’t been ruled out for future years, it’s not a viable option right now, given the current fiscal climate and consecutive years of massive state budget cuts.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have the staff to do that,” said Flores.

Flores said GUSD will continue to take additional measures to bolster the residency rules.

In the case of parents who live inside the GHS boundaries – but claim their child lives with a relative who resides within the CHS territory – GUSD may next year require legal guardianship papers as proof, instead of a non-notarized affidavit simply signed by the parent and the guardian.

“We’re going to be looking into that to see if we can strengthen the process,” said Flores.

The bottom line, she impressed, is that “no matter what attendance area you are living in, the students have wonderful opportunities at either high school.”

Approved transfers from 2009 to 2012:
– 66: Christopher High to Gilroy High
– 91: Gilroy High to Christopher High
Reasons transfers to CHS were approved:
– 9 percent: The student is a child of a CHS teacher
– 6 percent: The student moved to, or from the attendance area
– 38 percent: The student is the sibling of another student already enrolled at CHS
– 47 percent: Special documented circumstances (for example, divorce)

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