BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Hundreds of parents whose children enjoyed the opportunities of Beverly Hills' coveted schools are finding out whether they can stay enrolled, as the school board votes on a controversial proposal to boot out almost 500 out-of-district students.
A huge crowd is expected to attend the meeting Tuesday night where the Beverly Hills Unified School District board will decide whether to notify 484 so-called "permit students" that they must enroll elsewhere because of the district's new financing formula.
"These kids have their lives invested in Beverly Hills schools," said Michelle Kahn, a 19-year-old Beverly Hills High School graduate whose two brothers would be forced out of the district. "It seems like it's not taking the lives of the students into account."
The issue has inflamed sentiment in this exclusive community, which has long boasted schools that are recognized for excellence. They offer a rich menu of extracurricular activities ranging from madrigal singers to water polo in the renowned "swim gym" — an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a pool underneath.
But petitions, Facebook threats and name-calling are what have been on display in recent months. Police are expected to attend Tuesday's meeting in case tempers flare into unruly conduct.
The board's action comes as the district switches its funding from reliance on state financing to its own property tax dollars. That means the district will keep more money from its wealthy tax base but won't receive the state's $6,239 for each out-of-district student it schools.
The situation has cropped up elsewhere in California. With recent cuts in state education spending, wealthy communities are finding that their property taxes earmarked for state education budgets exceed the amount they receive from the state for their schools.
Irvine Unified School District, which also switched to self-financing, ended out-of-district enrollment last year.
Beverly Hills board Vice President Lisa Korbatov said it's an issue of fairness to residents of the exclusive city because their money will now be used to fund their schools, and they shouldn't have to pay for outsiders.
"People make sacrifices to move in here," she said. "We're saying to the permit students, `Please move in; be our neighbors."'
But opponents say kicking out the students, some of whom have attended Beverly Hills since kindergarten, is unfair.
"The human consequences are more important to me than the financial consequences," said board member Myra Lurie. "It's a mean-spirited and somewhat elitist point of view than our schools are for us and us only."
Korbatov said her proposal of allowing 10th- and 11th-graders to finish high school and seventh-graders to finish middle school is a reasonable compromise.
Several families whose children would be booted have circulated petitions to persuade the board to abandon the proposal. Board meetings have turned unruly, and one member received a security escort to her car after a recent session.
Facebook pages have sprung up on both sides, with police investigating at least one threatening posting from a 12-year-old student.
Education experts say the drama in Beverly Hills underscores that education is being affected by the economic crisis.
"They're taking action to protect their own," said John Rogers, co-director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. "It's a troubling but logical response."
Most of the permit students live in the well-to-do neighborhoods of western Los Angeles that surround Beverly Hills and would have to attend either private school or public school in the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, which has a 33 percent dropout rate.
Kahn said her family is considering renting out their house, which is located just blocks over the boundary of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, and renting an apartment in Beverly Hills.
"My dad's starting to pack up boxes around the house," she said.