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A blurry attendance boundary

By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 at 7:18 pm in elementary schools, enrollment, families.

I always assumed attendance boundaries around neighborhood schools were black and white. Not without controversy (heck no!), not permanent, but pretty straightforward: You live at this address, so this is your `home school.’

That’s why I was surprised to get an e-mail from Alexis Lezin, an Oakland mom who lives in North Oakland and has tried, unsuccessfully, to enroll her future kindergartner at Chabot Elementary School in Rockridge through the Options process.

Lezin’s family lives inside the Emerson Elementary School boundaries, and her child would be the first to attend Chabot, so the district’s Options policy doesn’t guarantee her child a spot at the Rockridge school. Still, she said she was floored to learn that three of the children admitted to Chabot were Berkeley residents. She wrote this in a letter to Mike Bonino, a district staffer who manages the Options process:

I am stunned to realize that Berkeley residents, who do not pay Oakland city taxes, who have access to a number of high performing schools in their own city, were offered the space(s) that could have gone to my son and other children of Oakland residents who deserve a safe place in which to learn *in their own district.*

It wasn’t an oversight or a computer glitch. Troy Flint, the district’s spokesman, said although the families in question are Berkeley residents, they live on the Oakland boundary, on a horseshoe-shaped street “a stone’s throw” from Chabot:

It’s difficult to explain without a map, but the families involved live in an area that is Chabot adjacent; it abuts and is partly surrounded by Oakland. Their homes are a stone’s throw from the school and Oakland proper (and closer to the school than the majority of enrolled families) but are officially Berkeley residences. The judgment of our enrollment department was that these families are essentially Chabot neighborhood families, in the meaningful sense of the term, even though they live just beyond the city line.

Three students out of a total of 112 were admitted under this rationale. We recognize that people who favor a stricter interpretation may disagree with the reasoning and that they have valid arguments to offer. It’s an issue we will revisit as we review this year’s enrollment process.

What do you make of this interpretation? Is this an issue at other schools on the Berkeley border? I asked Flint for clarification about the specific boundaries, and he responded, “The families live on a border street but are marginally outside Chabot’s enrollment boundaries. It has been standard practice for some time (I’m not sure how long) to enroll students from this particular area in Chabot Elementary…”

Here is the full text of Lezin’s letter:

Dear Mike Bonino:

I am writing to you to convey my deep disappointment and outrage to know
that at least three Berkeley families who applied for inter-district
transfers into Chabot Elementary were given neighborhood priority, and were
offered spaces for kindergarten before the option to appeal was even offered
to Oakland residents!! I fail to understand the reasoning behind this and
would like to get a better understanding from you as soon as possible. I
understand from speaking with an administrator from San Leandro Unified,
that it is standard practice there to place students from their own district
first, before even considering inter-district transfers. Why was this not
the case in OUSD???

Our local school is Emerson elementary, and our son will be entering
kindergarten next year. We are a two mom family, and we spoke with faculty
and staff at Emerson who told us that they did not know of any other LGBT
families at Emerson, and that the one LGBT family they had known had left
the school because they felt the environment was both hostile and unsafe for
their child. We chose Chabot as our first choice in the options process
because there is an organized LGBT parent group there we felt he would be
find a safe environment there in which to learn.

I am stunned to realize that Berkeley residents, who do not pay Oakland city
taxes, who have access to a number of high performing schools in their own
city, were offered the space(s) that could have gone to my son and other
children of Oakland residents who deserve a safe place in which to learn *in
their own district*.

In the meantime, our son got into a private school with significant
financial aid. Our first choice was to enroll him in public school. We
were willing to hang on until the first week of school (as we had been
advised by others) in order to find a good fit for our son and our family
within OUSD. We were prepared to give significant amounts of time and
energy to a district desperately in need. I must tell you though, after
hearing about the spots given to Berkeley families, we are not inclined to
send our son to any school within OUSD. It is a loss for all of us.

I assure you that I will let others who have participated in the options
process know about what has happened. I know of one family in particular
who come from a program improvement school, and were not offered a spot at
Chabot. They do not have private school to fall back on as an option. I do
not intend to let this issue go until your policy has been either explained
satisfactorily and/or remedied immediately. Thank you in advance for your
reply.

Sincerely,

Alexis Lezin

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  • former hills parent

    Yet another reason to leave Oakland schools. As a former Redwood Heights family I can say that since moving to another school district I have learned what I already knew to be true in Oakland. The academics do not compare to those in my children’s current school. What she was taught in first grade in Oakland was covered in Kindergarten in my new school district. Her current curriculum this year is significantly more rigorous, the homework is tied to the standards (unlike her previous Oakland busy-work disguised as homework), and all students are expected to work towards the highest standards. What a difference! Not until you leave OUSD do you realize how low the bar has been set in Oakland, all to be politically correct and not challenge the majority of students.

    The boundary issue is all too common with OUSD. It has been an ongoing problem and will continue to be so. Troy Flint’s poor explanation merely serves to demonstrates a broken system that continues to rot at its foundation.

    Good luck! Although I enjoyed living in Oakland, my children are so fortunate to be rid of the school system.

  • Lisa Russ

    I know one parent who is adjacent to Crocker, within Oakland but not technically in the Crocker school district. She was begging for months to get to go to Crocker, no go, despite the fact that she is also a stone’s throw.

    So, letting these Berkeley families in goes against the process, gives away highly coveted spaces, and really dilutes trust that this is a straight forward process.

    The really sad thing is how desperate we all are to get into these specific schools. it underscores the degree to which OUSD is Seperate and Unequal.

  • TheTruthHurts

    This is ridiculous!! Not only for the reasons indicated, but for the following reason. What happens after elementary school for the Berkeley residents? Well, of course, they go to a Berkeley school. They don’t contribute any longer to Oakland. They are no longer involved in improving Oakland schools.

    What about the Emerson family? Oh yeah, they’re gone out of Oakland too. Pushed out because of disgust – not because they didn’t get Chabot – but because Oakland cared more about a Berkeley family’s convenience than establishing a relationship with an Oakland family.

    This is plain STUPID. Oakland loses on all counts. Who gains? A Berkeley family with a smart real estate choice.

    What should we do differently? We should have city trump distance in terms of priority. Sure, if the school is under-enrolled, by all means, take residents from wherever. But, given the fights to get into Chabot, this smacks of the classism that plagues Oakland and everywhere else.

    I’d be steaming if I paid for Measure G and then lost a spot in a District school to Berkeley parents who then would get the sibling bias too. That policy is idiotic and cannot be defended at this time even if there were some reciprocity in the past. Now that communities are having to pay up in the form of parcel taxes, this simply is a slap in the face.

  • Harold

    @former hills parent – why cast stones? i’m glad you are happy. But i am happy too! My kid is a super-bright 2nd grader, with a fabulous (OUSD) Teacher. Do you go and throw stones at the Hayward Teachers? How about all those great schools in the Mt. Diablo School District? Are you telling parents to get out of Concord? “White-flight” won’t work this time. We have to work together in Oakland and through out the state.

  • del

    Hey, that sounds just like a letter I wrote to Santa some years ago. I wanted a remote control car, and I got it, but then I heard about some kid somewhere else who had gotten a nicer car so I wrote santa a letter expressing my outrage. I then also told all the other kids how santa was a big meanie and that definitely showed him!
    So, you got into a great school but heard from a staff member that it was “hostile and unsafe?” (Does anyone who reads this think they would continue to work in a place that is “hostile and unsafe?”) Then you illegally accessed private information about other parents, didn’t like what you learned, and now you’re taking your child somewhere else because a Berkeley kid in an Oakland school is an unforgivable sin? Well, I hope your child is resilient to this type of manipulative behavior.
    I do not think that kids from other cities should be given priority over Oakland kids, but this letter doesn’t add up. And if you really think the worst thing in our district is the kids at Chabot from Berkeley, then OUSD is not the district for you, Oakland is not the city for you, and perhaps reality is not the place for you.

  • Alexis

    The resilience that I model for my child, Del, is in my ability to stand up about an injustice even when some might complain that I am merely whining. You are right that OUSD’s problems extend far beyond this issue. Let us make no mistake that giving spots away to Berkeley residents is the tip of the iceberg at OUSD regarding its classist policies. I would like to see this conversation focus on the fact that:

    OUSD has pursued (intentionally or not) a strategy of letting some schools emerge as treasures, while others are left to be underfunded and underinvested in. This has resulted in a tiered, separate and unequal system with parents understandably scrambling for spots in the top tier schools. The only strategy we can see that the district has for improving the bottom tier schools is hoping that parents will go improve them. What this means is that RIGHT NOW, thousands of OUSD kids are in schools with no art, aides, music, gym, etc as part of their school day. Class sizes are growing, along with attention to Open Court and continued focus on test scores. Oakland is failing many of those kids, and there is really no visible, funded plan to fix those schools. Meanwhile, families like ours who are not given Top Tier schools are opting out of the district.
    The Options Process is creating more of a mess, perhaps letting some of the tension out of boiling pot, but not solving problems.

    The questions to hold the district to are:
    How are you improving the second tier (bottom tier) schools? What improvements to those schools can be in place in September? In the meanwhile, how will you run a transparent and fair system to sort out who goes where?

  • Nextset

    All of this is facinating.

  • harlemmoon

    The Options program is utterly flawed. Problems such as the ones outlined here are more commonplace than you’d expect. And, sadly, there are even more horrific stories of system abuses, shortcomings and the like.
    Alexis, your questions do strike at the heart of the matter. And OUSD would be off to a fine start at answering some of those questions should they care to reassess the Options program.
    Defending this program with corporate babble (“We recognize that people who favor a stricter interpretation may disagree with the reasoning and that they have valid arguments to offer. It’s an issue we will revisit as we review this year’s enrollment process.”) is intellectually disingenuous, if not insulting.

  • del

    The conversation can focus on the two tiered system if you are able to admit that in refusing a school that you have decided is “tier two” you have decided to be part of the problem, indeed the genesis of the problem. In the meantime, instead of externalizing blame for this issue, what have you done to help these schools besides run from them? And can you name ANY child in the district who is among and of the “thousands of OUSD kids are in schools with no art, aides, music, gym, etc as part of their school day,” or any of dozen schools like this that you claim exist? Or is this just what you have guessed, based on what you have heard from people who have no real idea what’s going on?
    I’m not defending the options program or its flaws, but let’s be real: it all began when some parents decided that they didn’t want their kids surrounded by kids of a different color. It wasn’t a problem when white parents were fudging an address to get into a school, but now that black parents can do it as well, it is. SO we adjust to be based on school “quality,” using measures that reflect both race AND parent income level (ie test scores). And now neighborhoods gentrify (Emerson’s) but the schools don’t fast enough, so we have a new “problem.” Well folks, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution! Pick your choice, but if you choose to be part of the problem, don’t expect sympathy from those of us working/living/learning in the schools that you think aren’t good enough for your child!

  • harlemmoon

    Actually, the conversation should focus on equity. We all should be adamant that every school – not just those in the hills or in certain neighborhoods – are of sound quality, provide high-level academic instruction and impart experiences/lessons that yield global, well-rounded students, at the very least.
    I’ve yet to run into parents who don’t want the best education for their children. Those families who have the misfortune of having to send their children to sub-par schools must carry the same import as those families whose children attend the so-called good schools. Instead, those families are pitted against each other – for scraps of a decent education.
    Curiously, the status-quo remains intact. It’s only when someone feels wronged that topics of fairness, equality, racism, etc receive some sort of attention. And just as quickly the topic changes and we’re off in some other direction. Meanwhile, suffer the little children.

  • J.R.

    If the district would just give them what they want, then they would not complain(it would be those other peoples problem).Bragging rights aside, sometimes life is not fair, even for the well heeled in our society.Reality sucks doesn’t it?

  • Linda

    As a parent who lives in the flatland schools- I loved the idea that my youngest would not have to face the same dismal situations as my eldest 2 boys. Both were harrassed, beaten up, and miserable through jr high.

    What I found out is that the open enrollment plan was all smoke and mirrors as they say. I , and some of my friends, tried to enroll more than once to Peralta Creek Elementary, and did not get in. However, later I discovered that OUSD district employees have a substantial number of seats at this school-even though they live no where close to the school- in fact one lives in my neighborhood in the 60′s block, and he will not have to worry about placement until HS.

    Is there a preference for OUSD employees? How is it that they get in and we are forced to send our kids to horrible schools that they in fact create?

    Its not right to me. We pay taxes which in part fund the OUSD system, and then the people that get paid from that have preference over me? If I could, I would take my dollars else where cause this school district is messed up.

    A double standard-hell try a double taxation! So they can give their speeches about how the flatland schools are improving under their watch- yet they do not have to risk their childs life in these horrible schools!

  • Katy Murphy

    I think Linda’s referring to Peralta Elementary in Rockridge. Peralta Creek was a middle school in East Oakland that closed last year.

  • Linda

    Yes Katy- thanks for the clarification. I was referring to the elementary school- they also have a small 7-8 grade class there(at least I think its still there)?

  • Katy Murphy

    Are you thinking of Hillcrest? If Peralta has a 7-8 class, that would be news to me.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    The semi-big national ed news out this week is about the discovery of a secret list kept by US Sec. of Ed. Arne Duncan, when he was the CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 2001-09, “…of all the big shots who asked for help in getting certain children into the city’s best public schools.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/24/AR2010032401426.html

    Duncan’s spokesman said, “We would just simply forward the requests [to principals], and say, ‘Look this is your decision. ” The claim is that by keeping a secret list, Duncan was just protecting the school principals.

    Duncan is a Chicago insider with oodles of connections. Those connections were exactly how he got his first job back in the states after getting a BA in Sociology (his only degree) then playing four years of basketball in Australia. They are the same Chicago connections for how he got to become such good friends with Obama. Apparently, CPS has a number of highly selective public schools, including Whitney Young High where Michelle Obama attended.

    Anyone out there believe Duncan’s story?

  • Anon

    I’m confused—which “horseshoe-shaped street” are we talking about? If it’s Chabolyn Terrace and Chabot Street, almost all of those homes *do* pay Oakland taxes, even though some have Berkeley mailing addresses. (This is true of some of the homes near Tunnel Road, too—check the assessor records.) The crazy part is that the few homes that are officially in Berkeley are literally bookended by homes in Oakland on the same small residential street—presumably some remnant of long-ago parcel boundaries.

    The bigger issue is that Oakland and Berkeley need to sort out once and for all which homes are in which city. This goes far beyond schools (although it’s a huge issue there—I understand that this also plays in reverse, and families in this area can request Berkeley High, too). When the City of Oakland updated their General Plan a decade ago, they mistakenly planned for the commercial area near the Claremont Hotel because they thought it was part of Oakland. The hotel is; the area surrounding it isn’t. Oops. And on the flip side, homeowners with Berkeley addresses but Oakland tax liabilities get stuck in back-and-forths between the two cities.

    Schools ought to be assigned based on which city you pay taxes to—but the two cities need to straighten this out in a way that doesn’t create situations like this, because I absolutely agree that it makes sense in theory (walkable neighborhood schools) for these kids to attend Chabot. So–change the tax rolls if necessary. I’m sure they paid a pretty penny for these homes because of Chabot, and Oakland absolutely ought to be the city benefiting from that—not Berkeley.

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, judging from the map I received, I think that’s the “horseshoe” shaped street in question. A few of the houses in the horseshoe are located in Berkeley, though most — on both sides, or legs — are in Oakland.

    So there are people with Berkeley mailing addresses who pay taxes in Oakland? Anyone know why that is? That does sound like it needs to be ironed out.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Wow, some people have too much time on their hands. Crybabies.

  • anon

    I’m delighted the RHS parent found a place better suited for her kids, but is it necessary to bash OUSD, RHS and all of the kids and parents who attend when making her points?

  • Anon #1

    Katy, I don’t know too much about the history, except that there are a number of homes on the Berkeley/Oakland border (Claremont and surrounding hills, mainly) that have Berkeley addresses but are officially in Oakland and pay Oakland taxes. (I don’t know of any with the reverse situation, though.) It’s a relatively well-known oddity to those who live in that area (and to realtors, who seem to have a field day with this), and has definitely been the case for decades. I’ve heard that it dates back to postal delivery routes for those homes coming off of Berkeley feeder roads (so homes needed Berkeley addresses and later zips to get mail routed properly), but no idea if this is true. Notably, places like the Claremont Hotel also have Berkeley addresses but are in Oakland (and pay Oakland hotel/business taxes).

    I suspect that OUSD is right that the school districting to deal with the situation has been in place for many years. (Whether it should remain in place is, of course, another question, but I don’t think it’s new.)

  • Cindy Wilson

    This is an area I am quite familiar with, as one of the villainized “Berekeley residents” attending Chabot. There is nothing sinister about the placement.

    The fact is that there are several Oakland neighborhoods that have Berkeley addresses. I live on a semicircular street that begins and ends in Berkeley, however the city borders cut through the middle of the street. For postal reasons, they use a Berkeley address. This is so mail carriers don’t have to go partway through the street and then turn around and go partway back. It is that simple.

    As as a so-called “Berkeley resident” I pay Oakland city taxes, vote in Oakland elections and have Oakland police and fire responders. I also have Oakland garbage pickup. If you walk past my house on a Monday, you will see that there are different colored trash bins. I also don’t need to apply for an interdistrict transfer because I live in Oakland.

    My children go to Chabot and to Claremont and participate just as much as my neighbors who live on Chabot Road. I served on Chabot’s PTA and am active in Claremont’s.

    The boundary isssue is not at all blurry. I live in Oakland. The only thing that is blurry is the fact that my mail goes to a Berkeley post office before it is delivered to me. It’s just a fact of where I live and I can’t help it.

    Don’t rush to judgment or start rumors until you check the facts. I understand how desirable Chabot is. I was there when it was 40 percent transfer because neighborhood residents didn’t want to send their kids there. I’m sending a child to Claremont so that we can continue to support the improvements taking place there and make it a better place even for kids who don’t get into Chabot.

    Yes, I’m sensitive about this issue because they are highly discriminatory and incendiary about those of us who are neighborhood residents that simply have a different address. Please do the research before you jump to conclusions. It is not always what it seems.

    Ich bin ein Oaklander :-) ).

  • Katy Murphy

    Cindy – Thanks for sharing your perspective (and your Oakland pride).

    If the boundary issue weren’t at all blurry, as you say, then I wonder why it was something the district’s Options team needed to deliberate over in the first place. Troy Flint said the residences in question fell “marginally” outside the attendance boundary for Chabot. The resulting placements may be perfectly justified and reasonable, but the situation — as explained to me by Flint — doesn’t exactly sound crystal clear.

  • Cindy Wilson

    Katy, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if OUSD did not have the understanding of the issue when the question was posed. There are only a handful of families involved so it stands to reason that those of us who have been affected by the address issue are more aware of the intricacies than are those who work at OUSD.

    When I applied to Chabot several years ago, the school took out the boundary map when I showed my address and they understood immediately. Probably because it is an issue in their backyard. Or front yard.

    The vast majority of Oakland schools are unaffected, so it is not surprising if Troy Flint was taken off guard by the question. To be fair, it is not a common one.

    The confusion remains, though. Ironically, back in January we got a letter from OUSD telling us we needed to apply for an interdistrict transfer to go to Claremont. This may be because for the first time in eight years, they finally got our address and zip code right in their computer system (another story).

    All said and confusing, the facts remain facts. In spite of our “dual citizenship,” the Oakland property tax collectors make it crystal clear where we live. And they charge us for the privilege each year.

  • Neal Parish

    Cindy / Katy — I just saw this blog entry, so I apologize for the late entry. We live down the street from Cindy, and are also in Oakland with a Berkeley mailing address, but literally ON the Berkeley/Oakland boundary. Like Cindy’s son, our son went to Chabot for K-5.

    Our street, however, is NOT the one that is at issue here. The street in question here is actually the upper portion of Chabolyn Terrace, where a small number of houses have Oakland addresses, but are physically located in Berkeley (the exact opposite of our situation).

    As an aside, when we contacted Berkeley Unified when we were exploring our school options before our son started kindergarten, we were told we’d have to go through the whole process of applying for an interdistrict transfer if we wanted our son to attend a Berkeley school. That was before we found out what a fabulous school we had in Chabot.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    It makes no sense to me why residents of another city would be bumping Oakland children out of placement in Oakland schools.

    Here’s my take on open enrollment: It’s great! But there needs to be some responsibility woven into the current system.

    If a child is attending a school blocks or miles away from his or her home school, and thriving there, excellent. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

    But if a child is enrolled in a school blocks or miles away from his or her home school, and the child is maintaining a D or F average and/or cutting class, roaming the neighborhood, starting fights, disrupting the school day for children who want to learn, or otherwise wasting the day and being a pain in the ass, then the open enrollment privilege needs to be revoked. Open enrollment should be restricted to students with C averages or above who don’t have discipline records a mile long.

    Kids who don’t take their education seriously, cause lots of trouble, and make the school so unpleasant that the LOCAL kids don’t want to attend…those kids can just as easily flunk out and raise hell in their own neighborhoods. And that’s exactly where they should be wasting their days, if wasting the school day is what they choose to do.