Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. | Threats on Facebook, name-calling, security guard escorts — tempers are running high around schools these days in this normally sedate enclave of ostentatious wealth.

The reason: The Beverly Hills school board is preparing to boot out 10 percent of its students as it ends a decades-old practice of allowing out-of-district pupils to attend city schools on “opportunity permits.”

The move has upset many so-called “permit parents” — mostly middle-class families living in the tonier areas of Los Angeles who are loath to send their children to the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, where more than a quarter of high-schoolers drop out.

“Every family on permit is outraged,” said Simy Levy, a Los Angeles resident whose two daughters attend school in Beverly Hills. “It’s incredibly unfair.”

The plan, which is expected to get final board approval next month, comes as the Beverly Hills Unified School District switches to a budget plan financed directly by the city’s well-to-do tax base instead of with state money based on enrollment.

The change results from steep cuts in state education funds that has left several affluent communities across the nation paying more school taxes to the state than they receive.

Beverly Hills is the latest to consider the self-financing model, in which the district would keep its school taxes and forgo the $6,239 the state sends for each nonresident student.

Without the financial incentive of enrolling outsiders, district officials are concerned their taxpayers would be subsidizing nonresidents’ education.

“What is wrong with me saying, ‘We have to save our resources for residents?’ ” said Lisa Korbatov, Beverly Hills school board vice president. “Our police do not respond to neighboring cities if someone is mugged or assaulted.”

As education dollars dry up, districts across the nation are taking a closer look at nonresident students. In Tonganoxie, Kan., school officials are considering charging outsiders tuition if state law allows them to do so. Many other districts are aggressively weeding out illegally enrolled outsiders.

The students booted from Beverly Hills would leave schools that have won state and federal recognition for academic excellence. The district offers a rich menu of extracurricular activities, ranging from madrigal singers to water polo. Facilities include an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a swimming pool underneath.

Facebook pages have sprung up on both sides, with police investigating one posting that called for “machine gun machetes” to be used against those who favor ending permits.

Board meetings have turned unruly with accusations that members were acting like Hitler. Miss Korbatov had a security guard escort her to her car after a recent session.

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