Photo by Melati Citrawireja
BUSD rejected 11% of applicants from private middle schools to Berkeley High School for 2015-16 after stricter enforcement requirements were implemented. Now the board is considering an even tougher policy. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Berkeley school board officials are considering tougher enrollment requirements to curb illegal enrollment in the district, following the initial success of new registration requirements this year.

Stricter enforcement in recent months led the Berkeley Unified School District admissions office to reject 11% of applicants from private middle schools to Berkeley High School for 2015-16 after it was determined they did not actually reside in Berkeley, according to Francisco Martinez, the BUSD admissions manager. About 150 students applied. Thirty-seven students were flagged for follow-up and officials found that 17 of them did not reside in Berkeley, he said.

Read Berkeleyside’s 2014 story on fraudulent enrollment in Berkeley schools.

BUSD, for the first time, also required all currently enrolled fifth graders to prove their Berkeley residency before being accepted into sixth grade, he said. About 8% of the 684 students did not reapply for admission, despite an aggressive campaign to inform families of new requirements.

The Berkeley Unified board meeting on May 20, 2015, heard the first reading on a new district policy on enrollment. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

The new board policy, titled BP 5111, asks students seeking admission to BUSD to provide three sets of proof of residency and a declaration form — two more forms than are currently required. Its accompanying administrative regulations drew a myriad of questions from the board at its May 20 meeting, ranging from the legality of the policy, to its impact on homeless students.

Currently, families enrolling their children in Berkeley schools have to prove residency by submitting three documents from two categories — a utility bill (PG&E, water, garbage, phone, cable, internet) and a driver’s license, bank statement, or paycheck stub.

If the school board adopts the new policy, families in the 2016-17 school year will also have to provide a rental contract or lease, home insurance statement, property tax statement or property deeds.

In addition, parents will have to sign an affidavit declaring they live in Berkeley.

“We are asking parents to affirm and declare they are Berkeley residents,” said Martinez. “They need to understand there would be consequences if we determined they were not living in Berkeley. We wanted them to be aware of what the consequences would be.”

Families will have to resubmit proof of residency three times: when they enroll their children in kindergarten, when they transition to middle school, and when they enter high school. Until this year, families only had to do that once.

If families move to a different home in Berkeley, the policy asks parents to alert the district of the move within five days and verify the new address within 30 days.

The question of illegal enrollment of students in Berkeley schools has long plagued BUSD and other strong school districts in close proximity to under-performing districts. A study done 10 years ago by a UC Berkeley graduate student interning at BUSD estimated that 10% to 12% of the students enrolled did not live in Berkeley. The study, which was never formally embraced by the school administration or school board, also concluded that the illegally enrolled students were a net financial boon for the district. The students brought in more money from the state in Average Daily Attendance funds than cost the district in BSEP funds, according to the report.

Berkeleyside reported in depth on the issue of illegal enrollment in 2014, and the article drew 375 comments — one indication of how strongly families feel about the question. The district was checking records and doing home visits at the time, but has since stepped up its enforcement efforts, said Martinez.

In 2014-15, the district allotted more resources to home visits. There are now three people doing them part-time, including Martinez himself, who said he takes on the more troublesome cases.

BUSD did 477 home visits this school year, both in the summer and spring of 2015. As a result, 80 students were asked to leave the district as they were not living in Berkeley. Some left immediately and some will leave at the end of the school year, Martinez said.

The home visits also resulted in denying admission to 17 of the 150 private-school applicants for Berkeley High, he said.

“We’re being a little bit more proactive,” said Martinez. “The superintendent (Donald Evans, who came on board in 2013) has been very supportive of being proactive.”

Berkeley School Board has questions about equity

During the first reading of BP 5111 on May 20, school board members asked Martinez about various special circumstances that may make families unable to verify a home address. Board Vice President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler asked, for instance, about how families who share a house with other families, or who are undocumented, can provide rental contracts.

Karen Hemphill
BUSD Board member Karen Hemphill expressed concerns about a proposed new enrollment policy at the May 20, 2015 board meeting. Photo: courtesy Karen Hemphill
BUSD Board member Karen Hemphill expressed concerns about a proposed new enrollment policy at the May 20, 2015 board meeting. Photo: courtesy Karen Hemphill

Board Member Karen Hemphill expressed the greatest concern in the meeting, saying she feared the new policy would target lower-income and homeless families more than others. Hemphill also mentioned concerns voiced by the Berkeley NAACP about the district’s authority to conduct home visits, and recommended random house checks for equity’s sake.

“I really struggled with this [policy],” Hemphill said. “While I understand why some of the verification was chosen, it does seem the burden of having to prove your residency through a home visit is disproportionately being placed on lower-income families.”

Martinez said after the meeting that his office paid home visits to families of all income levels.

“We have families who live in Kensington, we have families who live in the Oakland Hills,” said Martinez. “We also found families who live in Richmond, the poor areas of Richmond and Oakland. It’s a cross-section.”

In the interests of greater transparency, and to demonstrate that home visits are not targeting any specific group, Martinez proposed publishing a map on where the home visits happens in the future.

Hemphill also questioned the necessity of language involving custody provisions in the criteria for residency. She said the district should not need to get involved in family matters and that low-income families regularly go through divorces without proper custody provisions, as the necessary documentation costs money.

While picking at the trickier legal consequences of the policy — such as what would happen if a family owned a rental property in Berkeley but chose not to live in it — the board expressed enough confidence in the policy and in Martinez to send it back to the Policy Subcommittee.

After the board meeting, Martinez said he believed there would not be major revisions coming to the policy.

“Changes will be very minor,” he said. “There is nothing new in any way, but we are always trying to address concerns for families.”

Illegal enrollment is boon and burden to Berkeley schools (04.08.14)

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