After seeing its student population diminish in the past several years, Open Alternative School (OAS) supporters received hope on Tuesday night after school boardmembers voted to alter its interdistrict attendance policy with specific language to support the small school of choice. Unlike the other elementary schools, Open Alternative School — which sits on the La Colina Junior High School campus on Foothill Road — previously could not accept students who lived in its nearby neighborhoods, because those kids resided in the Hope Elementary School District. In the past several years, OAS has seen its population size drop by dozens and its number of classrooms cut from 10 to five. Recently, the student body size has crept up to 169 students in seven classes; the school’s goal is to reach 230.
Always a hot topic, the ability of out-of-district students to attend a Santa Barbara school was restricted about seven years ago after the district slipped into “basic aid.” This effectively meant state money per pupil would be diluted if the district accepted students from out of its boundaries. The amendment has been a long time coming, and after considerable back and forth, the board finalized Tuesday a policy that allows the district to accept 100 interdistrict transfers wishing to attend one of the district schools on a space-available basis, including space for 25 students at OAS. The policy change affects all schools in the district, but space is very tight at other elementary schools. If more than 100 students from out of the district apply to attend a Santa Barbara school, the district will hold a lottery.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity; it’s a vote of confidence,” said OAS principal Colleen Million, who started the position last summer. Priority will be given to students who are children of district or SBCC employees or to pupils who have siblings already in the district. Million also expressed concern about getting the numbers back up as open enrollment ends February 17.