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As parents of students who attend, or have attended, schools in El Dorado County for the past 15-plus years, we feel that the public needs to be made aware of the travesty that is occurring. In the last three years, El Dorado County high school boundaries have been redrawn in a manner that serves school administratorsÕ personal agendas and career objectives, but not the best interests of our countyÕs students, teachers, or taxpayers Ñ the constituencies that should really matter in a change such as this.
Furthermore, any and all attempts on the part of students and their families to remedy the dire personal consequences associated with this change via intra-district transfers between high schools have been summarily blocked by the county school board, even though these transfers are legally supported by the current California Education Code.
The negative consequences created by the El Dorado Union High School District boardÕs past and continuing actions include: a) the loss of educational programs and opportunities for our students; b) a decline in the overall quality of education available to all county students; c) the dislocation of county teachers; d) the inefficient use (and associated waste) of county tax dollars; and e) the severing of student, family, and school tradition and Òcommunities.Ó
As background, we would like to highlight the history behind this unfair situation. First, several years ago, the superintendent of the El Dorado Union High School District, Sherry Smith, proposed to the school board boundary changes for ÒallÓ of the high schools in EDUHSD. Ostensibly, the primary objective behind these proposed changes was to reduce overcrowding at Oak Ridge and Ponderosa High School. The school board presented parents throughout the county with five different proposals for these boundary changes.
The parents of Oak Ridge and Ponderosa students, well organized and supported by legal counsel (to their credit), successfully resisted any significant changes to their school boundaries.
After all of the lobbying and legal wrangling was complete, the only boundary that was significantly changed was the one between Union Mine High School and El Dorado High School, with the net impact of forcing a number of students who would have attended Union Mine to switch their attendance to El Dorado High School. This upcoming year, El Dorado High School will have approximately 400 incoming freshmen, Ponderosa High School will have 500, and Oak Ridge High School will have 600. Union Mine, in contrast, will have just over 200 incoming freshmen.
So, to repeat, the net effect of this change has been to dramatically shift students from Union Mine, the countyÕs new, Òstate-of-the-artÓ high school, which has excess classroom capacity, to El Dorado High School, turning the Òstudent to capacityÓ balance upside down.
Furthermore, a significant portion of the students transfered between Union Mine and El Dorado are residents of two higher-income, gated communities that traditionally score well on standardized testing. The net impact of this has been, over the last four years, a disproportionate increase in El Dorado High School test scores (between 2007-2008 the highest growth rate of any ÒtraditionalÓ high school in the county), and a corresponding decline in both absolute test scores and the test score improvement rate at Union Mine High School (between 2007-2008 the lowest growth rate of any ÒtraditionalÓ high school in the county).
Individual high school funding, of course, is based in large part of their attendance figures. And, both funding and administrator ratings are based in part by test score performance (particularly test score trending). Is it just a coincidence, then, that the Principal of El Dorado High School, Jerry Smith, happens to be married to the Superintendent of the El Dorado Union High School District, Sherry Smith? This is, if anything, a classic case of a Òconflict of interestÓ.
In response to this illogical change, many students have attempted to transfer from their Ònew school,Ó El Dorado, to the school that they would have attended before this change, Union Mine. However, the school board has denied nearly every request for these transfers, often without explanation. And, the right to these transfers is clearly supported by our state laws. The California Education Code 35160.5 states, ÒThe parents/guardians of any student who resides within district boundaries may apply to enroll their child in any district school, regardless of the location of residence within the district, if the desired school is not at or over capacity.Ó
Obviously, Union Mine is not over capacity. There are approximately 10 empty classrooms on this new, Òstate-of-the-artÓ campus that was built with county taxpayer dollars. The county school board is now attempting to move portable classrooms off of the UM campus, thereby creating Òthe ÒappearanceÓ that the campus is over capacity (ÒimpactedÓ), thus justifying their repeated denials of county students requesting the opportunity to attend the school of their choice. In addition, the school board has claimed that the current student-teacher ratio at Union Mine does not support transfers into Union Mine (another version of ÒimpactedÓ); however, they themselves have created this situation by laying off Union Mine teachers Ñ teachers who could easily be rehired to support any influx of additional students.
The only beneficiary of these denials, of course, is the administration of El Dorado High School. Again, we ask, it is just a coincidence that the EDUHSD superintendent is married to the principal of El Dorado High School?
The most significant impact of this travesty has been the loss of educational opportunities and a decline in the overall quality of education for the students who remain at Union Mine. This decrease in enrollment at Union Mine has resulted in: (1) electives and AP classes at Union Mine being canceled, and students being told that they canÕt take these classes at El Dorado because they are ÒfullÓ; (2) music and performing arts programs being downsized and underfunded; (3) teachers being laid off, or forced to split their teaching time between multiple campuses; (4) sports programs that are now facing too few participants to field some freshman teams Ñ this is grossly unfair to those students who want to be a part of those programs, as they will now have to compete for playing time with older, more experienced teammates.
In addition, Union Mine is the only school in the high school district that runs a true 4×4 block schedule. At the time this 4×4 schedule was proposed, EDUHSD justified the change by touting the great educational advantages of the schedule. And, they were right – these benefits have been well documented, especially for those who have struggled academically, and for those who want to graduate early and move on to higher education at an accelerated pace. The district’s policy and actions, however, now deny county students the educational opportunity to take advantage of this 4×4 schedule if they live outside of the boundaries of Union Mine. County parents are no longer being given a choice as to the best educational setting for their student. Their child will only attend high school for four years, but the effect of that experience will stay with the student, and parents, for a lifetime.
Another impact of this change has been to sever school, student, and family ÒcommunitiesÓ that have been established over the years. Students are being denied the right to attend the school that their older siblings attended, or that their middle school peers and friends will attend. The elementary and middle schools in the county are Òfeeder programsÓ that align themselves with the high schools in their community, creating a sense of community and shared purpose. However, this is now being dismantled. El Dorado is now comprised of students from Gold Trail, Markham, Sierra Ridge, Camino, Herbert Green and Pleasant Valley. Union Mine will be comprised of students from Mountain Creek, part of Pleasant Valley and part of Herbert Green.
For example, of the 150 kids graduating from Herbert Green Middle School this May, 25-plus are being forced to go to El Dorado High School. Let it be understood that we have no ill feelings about El Dorado High School, however, we, as parents, chose to settle and live in this part of the county because we wanted our children to attend Union Mine. Many of these graduating students have had at least two older siblings attend Union Mine. Because these students have graduated, or are graduating this year, their eighth grade siblings cannot be ÒgrandfatheredÓ into the system. Our students should have Ñ and do have the right, according to the state Education Code Ñ to choose which school they want to attend.
We, as parents, feel that the superintendent does not have our childrenÕs best interests at heart when it concerns their education. It feels is if we are no longer being invited to be partners in the decisions regarding our own childrenÕs education and opportunities, but rather those decisions are being dictated to us as if we are not capable of being involved in such an important process. As stated above, the districtÕs flat-out refusal to entertain any valid reasons for student transfers into Union Mine remains in question. What evidence could possibly support that the boundaries, as they currently stand, are in all studentsÕ best interest? In fact, there is ample evidence to support just the opposite.
Please let us keep in mind that the districtÕs responsibility is to best serve the students, all of the students, who live within their boundaries. There should be no other motivation. There should be no conflict of interest. Once again, we ask, Is it just a coincidence that the El Dorado Union High School District superintendent is married to the principal at El Dorado High School? Maybe so. But, as we continue to live with the impact that her decisions have had on Union Mine, including its staff, students and families, and see the benefits that El Dorado has reaped from these same decisions, it is difficult to believe that it has all been done with an objective eye. The negative repercussions of the original change, and the continued actions to support this change, have had a detrimental impact on every conceivable constituency within our county Ñ students, parents, teachers and taxpayers Ñ except, of course, the administration of El Dorado High School.
The EDUHSD superintendent is responsible to see that all of the schools over which she is a guardian thrive, and that all students have an educational environment that best suits their needs. The community needs to be aware of this, and, as a community, we need to band together do what is best for all students.
Pete McIntyre and Bob Bennett authored this with the full endorsement and support of the group, FDamilies for School Choice.