Acalanes Halts Out-of-District Student Transfers

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    For the first time in some 20 years the Acalanes Union High School District is shutting its doors to students outside its boundaries.
    Starting with the next school year, the district will no longer accept interdistrict transfers. Current transfer students and children of employees — about 200 of them — who live outside the district will continue to be enrolled. Moving forward, the only out-of-district students allowed will be children of employees. 
    The decision is entirely financial, said John Nickerson, superintendent of the Acalanes Union High School District.
    “We don’t get additional funding for them,” Nickerson said.
    Acalanes is considered a “basic aid” district by the state meaning its revenue from local property taxes exceeds what it would receive from the state for per student education funding. Because the cities in the Acalanes district have seen an uptick in property taxes, the state has reduced its share of education funding.
    “Why this becomes an issue for us is that we no longer receive funding from the state on a per pupil basis,” Nickerson said. “Historically, the district had 200 to 400 transfers at any given time. We received funding from the state for those students. But for the last four years we haven’t received any funding from the state for these students, and we don’t anticipate we would receive any funding next year because our property tax slightly exceeds per pupil funding from the state.”
    Nickerson said his district spends $14,000 on average for each student each year and has about 5,700 students. It is difficult, Nickerson said, to pinpoint exactly how much the district would save by eliminating transfers. 
    Per pupil spending has gone up due to a variety of reasons in the past five years, ranging from increases in the district’s required contribution to the state pension systems, modest increases in total compensation for staff, increases in special education costs, and standard inflationary shifts in cost of service, Nickerson said.  
    The increases in costs, he said, have exceeded state funding levels as well as the local property tax funding level. The district projects deficit spending in the 2018-2019 school year at just under $2 million, and next year’s deficit is projected even higher, Nickerson said.
    “The district is deploying its reserve to prevent cuts in programs. Acceptance of transfer students would result in high deficits and more rapid deployment of reserves,” he said.
    The elimination of new transfer students, however, will not result in a staff reduction, Nickerson said. There will be fewer teachers next school year as the result of attrition, but not because of layoffs.
    The new policy will impact the families of existing transfer students whose siblings will no longer be able to attend the same school. Nickerson acknowledged many families were upset by the decision.   
    Nickerson said officials considered how the decision would impact diversity at Acalanes but concluded it would result in less than 1 percent of change in students of color.
    Sarah Morgan is a teacher/librarian at Campolindo High School and communications and membership chair of the Acalanes Education Association, the district’s teachers’ union. She lives in the Mount Diablo Unified School District but was able to have her daughter attend Campolindo through an interdistrict transfer.  
    “To have a successful school you need the funds. So if we’re not getting ADA (average daily attendance funds) from the state anymore, and we’re basic aid, then it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense to have kids in our school who we’re taking away from other districts,” Morgan said, pointing out that the home districts of transfer students also lose out on funding when students transfer.
    “We’re educating them for free and their home schools are not getting funds for them either,” she said.
    Acalanes sees transfer requests from many surrounding communities, including Concord, Martinez, Oakland and Richmond. 
    In the 2018-2019 school year, 74 students from the West Contra Costa Unified School District were enrolled in Acalanes, according to Marcus Walton, district spokesman. The West County district has a total of 28,000 students. 
    Walton said families request transfers for a number of reasons, including parents’ jobs and commutes. Whatever the reason, Walton said, his district is prepared to offer the high-quality education families are looking for.
    “We welcome them back,” Walton said.   

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