Nearly six years after the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) changed its policy to restrict interdistrict transfers, supporters of Open Alternative School (OAS) say their campus took the biggest hit. The small progressive school — founded in 1975 — saw its classes decrease from 10 to five, and its population shrink from 224 students to 131.

SBUSD changed its board policy in 2008 to prevent students who live outside the district from attending its elementary or high schools, including OAS. (Children of district employees are exempt from the policy.) The board’s decision — which impacted roughly 500 students — was made after the primary school district was classified “basic aid,” which meant the funds that it received from property taxes disqualified it from receiving state money. (In 2011, the primary and secondary schools unified to become SBUSD.)

OAS is located on La Colina Junior High School’s campus, which falls in the Hope Elementary School District. The district’s premise has long been to promote “neighborhood schools,” but students who live adjacent to OAS are prohibited from attending it. Only families who live in one of the district’s elementary school zones — such as Washington, Roosevelt, Monroe, or Franklin — can send their children to OAS.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, OAS Foundation Director Marc Chytilo told the board that the school would have a difficult time getting its numbers back up to the 200-student range without reaching out to other districts. In the past, roughly 40 percent of inquiring families who attended OAS lived outside of district boundaries.

Ten parents proceeded to the podium Tuesday to urge boardmembers to exempt OAS from current board policy and allow it to accept students from other South County school districts. They noted the school’s benefits — considerable parent involvement and progressive education that fits with Common Core — and explained that its first priority is to increase enrollment. Theresa Bartos, who has worn many hats at the school for more than 20 years, said of the six tours she gave to inquiring parents on Tuesday, five would be unable to attend OAS because they lived in the Hope or Goleta District.

Superintendent David Cash said he’s been telling OAS to engage in robust outreach and marketing for three years to beef up the school’s numbers — something he had to do when he was a principal at Dos Pueblos High School. “I think OAS has a compelling message to tell, but it’s a message that needs to be out in the community.”

Boardmember Ed Herron, who was on the board in 2008, explained the board change was “purely a dollar decision.” He said he would support authorizing Cash to approve a capped number of interdistrict transfers next year — thereby substantially increasing the student population over several years — as well as extending the enrollment period until June. (Its enrollment period ends on February 15, which would give the school only four days after the next board meeting to recruit members.) Boardmember Kate Parker, who was also on the board at the time, called the situation a “real dilemma.” But “opening the flood gates” — and completely changing board policy — could also be problematic. The issue is expected to return to the board on February 11.


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