When Sandy Papesh considered a high school for her daughter, Kayla, she assumed there would be no problem getting her child into the high school of their choice.
“We wanted West Valley because of the courses being offered,” Papesh said. That and, “It’s geographically closer to where we live.”
Like many Bowman Road area residents of far northern Tehama County, Papesh considers herself a member of the Cottonwood community in southern Shasta County. She shops in Cottonwood, picks up her mail there and drives the Cottonwood streets regularly.
Red Bluff High School isn’t nearly as familiar to Papesh as is West Valley High School.
“We were told by people that it wouldn’t be a problem to get into West Valley.”
They were wrong.
What Papesh and many Cottonwood parents learned last year was that the “School of Choice” agreement between the Anderson Union High School District and the Red Bluff Joint Union High School District had expired in June 2010. And since the Papesh family lived inside of the Tehama Union School District, they were no longer eligible to send their child to West Valley.
“We were told there was nothing we could do,” Papesh said. “At one point I was even told my only option was to move.”
What followed was a nightmare.
While Daniel Curry, superintendent of Red Bluff High School, was quoted in October 2010 as saying, “He sympathized with those families and students [who are closer to a school outside of the Red Bluff district],” Evergreen parents were given the opposite impression.
“I was told that’s not the way it works,” Papesh said. “I learned that the district had the ability to tell us no.”
That turns out to be true.
The California Department of Education maintains that, “Policies regarding interdistrict transfers are the responsibility of each local district governing board.” Red Bluff High School District had the ability to tell parents to “go fish” — and they did.
“We were given the run around,” Papesh said. “I was told don’t bother filling out the paperwork. That my transfer request would just be denied.”
But Evergreen parents fought back.
“We found a loophole,” Papesh said.
It turns out Red Bluff High School is in program improvement. Under the Federal No Child Left Behind law, “Schools that do not meet their achievement targets must offer parents the choice of attending another school in the same district.”
Unfortunately for Evergreen parents, those alternative schools were in Corning and Los Molinos — 30 miles away, 60 miles for a round trip.
“That’s just ridiculous,” said Papesh.
Grudgingly, or so it seemed to parents, their interdistrict transfers were approved. But the whole process left a bad taste in many parents’ mouths. Eventually, the Tehama County Department of Education was made aware of the confusion.
“Recently, they put a large ad in the Red Bluff Daily News with the form and an explanation of how it works,” says Curry. “The form itself has directions on how it is to be completed.”
But even with the goodwill gesture, some parents and school administrators wonder if the whole thing might be related to money.
“Red Bluff is paid approximately $6,021 per child,” claims Harley North, Evergreen Union School District superintendent. “We had 124 eighth-graders last year. Forty-seven went to Red Bluff, most of the rest went to West Valley.”
Some also went to Anderson New Tech High School, but even if only 50 percent went to West Valley, that’s $373,302 that Red Bluff High School stood to lose — and eventually did lose.
So what about next year? Will interdistrict transfers be approved then?
“[We’re in] too much flux to try and predict that,” says Curry. “Our approach is to simply continue to improve year-to-year, which we have been doing.”
But superintendent North is skeptical.
“They did not renew the open enrollment agreement,” he points out. “And they let it be known that interdistricts would be denied. It would make no sense to get out of the open enrollment agreement if they were going to approve the interdistricts.”
And with Red Bluff High School potentially leaving program improvement status, one wonders if next year the district will stand firm in its resolve to deny interdistrict transfers.
“In my opinion, the whole system, K-12, should be open enrollment,” said North. “Ninth-grade test scores are almost always higher than 11th-grade scores. Why should scores go down?”
“Why can’t we select where our children go to school?” Papesh asks.
Says North, “Parents feel that they should have a right to send their children where they choose and will fight to make that happen.”
Evergreen parents are proving that to be true.