Illegal enrollment is boon and burden to Berkeley schools

Parents desperate to get their kids into some schools, including Berkeley High School, will cheat their way in. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Parents desperate to get their kids into some schools, including Berkeley High School, cheat their way in. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

When Sarah James went to the first meeting for her daughter’s freshman crew team at Berkeley High School, she wanted to form a carpool for the 6 a.m. practices.

But James (not her real name) lived in Oakland and had enrolled her daughter using a false address. James did not think she would find any other crew members living near her Rockridge bungalow, but she needn’t have worried. That fall, there were four other girls on the team who lived in Oakland, James said.

The official freshman crew roster, however, showed that everyone had a Berkeley address.

That was nearly 10 years ago, but people haven’t stopped enrolling their kids illegally in Berkeley schools. Everyone seems to know a case: people using relatives’ addresses, friends’ addresses, or even rental property owned by the family who lives out of town. One recent gossip item on a local internet site: a man with a boat at the Berkeley marina, using that address to enroll his child, who lives in another city.

Berkeley Unified School District says illegal enrollment is common in many districts across the state. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Berkeley Unified School District says illegal enrollment is common in many districts across the state. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Illegal enrollment is a problem common to strong school districts around the state, especially those that border districts with underperforming schools. Parents desperate to get their kids into schools with high test scores, clean campuses, and dedicated teachers, will cheat their way in, often rationalizing their actions by saying it really isn’t a burden to anyone.

“This comes up with a lot of districts,” said Neil Smith, an assistant superintendent for the Berkeley Unified School District. “I don’t want Berkeley to think they’re the only ones.”

Nobody knows exactly how many students are illegally enrolled in Berkeley schools, but many agree that they can be a burden to the system. Nine years ago, in the only known comprehensive report made on the subject, a UC Berkeley graduate student estimated illegal enrollment was around 10%. A current district administrator says that number has declined, while an outside critic believes it has gone up.

The number of students enrolled in Berkeley schools is at a high: 9,581. On some campuses, there is not enough room to teach all those children, forcing the district to use portable classrooms. This has been a particularly volatile issue at Washington Elementary School this year. Berkeley High School just finished construction on a $46 million building that replaced some portables, and added a new gym and locker room. Overcrowding can make it difficult to get into popular classes. There are wait-lists for after-school care.

“It wouldn’t bother me too much if the schools weren’t so crowded, with elementary enrollment expected to continue to grow over a few more years,” Lauren Rebusi wrote on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page. “Where are all those kids going to go?”

The number of grade-schoolers who don’t use the school bus service is cited as evidence of fraudulent enrollment. Photo: BUSD

The number of grade-schoolers who don’t use the school bus service is cited as evidence of fraudulent enrollment. Photo: BUSD

About a dozen Berkeleyside regulars comment frequently – and angrily — on illegal enrollment. Are others are angry? The Berkeley Accountable Schools Project, an online, anonymous watchdog group, has 75 people who have signed up for e-mail updates, and 55 who have signed a petition to the school board.

But many parents say they have mixed feelings about the problem.

The critics’ concerns come down to money: Berkeley residents pay extra taxes to supplement schools, so it seems unfair to let non-residents take advantage of that.

But research reveals that the question is more nuanced and difficult than appears at first glance. While illegally enrolled school children may place extra burdens on the district, they also bring in more state funds than they consume in local taxes, according to one analyst. In short, they may make money for the district.

Debate over the situation may soon intensify, as BUSD will be asking Berkeley residents to renew a school tax in two years.

“I will not vote for more school taxes unless and until real, consistent address verification is instituted,” wrote Fran Haselsteiner on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page.

An indication of the sensitivity of this issue is that very few people were willing to talk to Berkeleyside on the record about illegal enrollment. This includes parents, teachers, and community members. They all asked to be anonymous – including the person who runs a website dedicated to BUSD’s enrollment issues.

When contacted about the issue of illegal enrollment, Superintendent Donald Evans declined to talk to Berkeleyside.

There are strong opinions about illegal enrollment in the community, which starts as early as kindergarten, but many parents and officials won't talk about the issue publicly. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

There are strong opinions about illegal enrollment in the community, which starts as early as kindergarten, but many parents and officials won’t talk about the issue publicly. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Funding: a combination of state and tax money

California schools receive the bulk of their funding from the state, based on the number of students who attend each day. That number is called the average daily attendance, or ADA. While students are supposed to live in the district, or have a transfer permit, the illegally enrolled students also bring in ADA funds.

Berkeley schools are projected to receive about $7,550 per student for this school year, with a projected ADA of 8,965 students according to Javetta Cleveland, deputy superintendent of business services.

In addition, Berkeley residents pay a parcel tax, called BSEP (Berkeley Schools Excellence Program), to supplement the schools’ budgets. Two-thirds of the BSEP money goes to reducing class sizes, with the rest making libraries, music and other programs possible.

Residents pay nearly 28 cents per square foot on their homes (so a 1,000-square-foot  home would be taxed $279), while businesses pay just over 42 cents per square foot. This tax brought in $24.6 million for 2013-14. If that were calculated on a per student basis, it would equal $2,568 each, said BSEP director Natasha Beery.

One 9-year-old study found that illegally enrolled students were a net financial benefit to the district. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

One 9-year-old study found that illegally enrolled students were a net financial benefit to the district. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Nearly 10 years ago, a UC Berkeley graduate student looked at this equation of ADA state funding versus BSEP and concluded that illegally enrolled students were a net financial benefit. Even though these students “diffused” the BSEP tax, they also brought in between $1 million and $1.5 million per year in ADA funds, the graduate student, Rinat Fried, calculated.

“Larger enrollment means more discretionary revenue for the district, which appears to compensate for BSEP diffusion,” Fried wrote in her 2005 report called Attending to the Bottom Line: Boosting District Revenue and Enhancing Educational Mission Through Interdistrict Enrollment & Attendance Policy. The report was part of her graduate work at the Goldman School of Public Policy.

To arrive at this conclusion, Fried first had to calculate how many “unofficial transfers,” as she put it, were attending Berkeley schools.

How big is the problem?

In the 2005 report, Fried wrote that, until then, the district “never attempted to estimate the number of inter-district students attending unofficially.” At the time, there were a total of roughly 9,000 students in the district, down from a peak of about 9,500 in 2000. Enrollment has now surpassed that level.

Fried wrote that the district attendance manager, Francisco Martinez, estimated at that time that “between 7% and 12% of currently [2005] enrolled students in the district attend unofficially.”

Fried went on to try to verify that estimate, using four methods, and concluded that about 8% to 12% of students — 720 to 1,075 kids — were illegally enrolled at the time.

She checked 2000 census records for the number of children living in Berkeley (factoring in private school enrollment), which yielded a 7.8% unofficial enrollment rate. She also crosschecked addresses for phone numbers with out-of-Berkeley exchanges, and came up with an 8% to 14% rate. Her look at feeder schools among Berkeley High freshman suggested that 10% were illegally enrolled. And, finally, she surveyed teachers in one Berkeley elementary school, asking them to mark names of students who lived elsewhere. Double checking for transfer permits, the results suggested that 16% of that school’s students were illegally enrolled. Combining these four methods, she came up with the 8-to-12% figures [p. 19 of the report].

Students at Berkeley High school

Estimates of the number of illegally enrolled students in the district, including at Berkeley High, are hard to pin down. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Fried, who now works for the Oakland School District, declined to comment on her report for this news story.

District administrators initially hesitated to provide Berkeleyside with a current estimate of the number of illegally enrolled students. But, just recently, Martinez, the admissions director, said that he thinks the percent of students attending illegally from out of district is “much lower than it was before (at the time of Fried’s report),” although he declined to actually make an estimate.

In the nine years since Fried’s report appeared, BUSD has taken a number of steps to research and cut down on illegal enrollment, said Martinez. That includes hiring an investigator to make home visits to verify people’s addresses and updating the status of homeless families. “We are doing a much more thorough job now,” Martinez said.

On the other hand, the BASP website author, who insists on anonymity, says he has analyzed recent census data using Fried’s methods, and believes illegal enrollments have gone up: “The number of fraudulently enrolled students in 2009, 2010, 2011-2012 ranges from one to three times what Fried measured in her study,” he said.

Lack of data leads to rampant speculation

So have illegal enrollments gone up or gone down? The lack of publicly shared data makes for a lot of speculation.

In online forums, and in off-the-record calls to Berkeleyside reporters, residents point to their evidence of enrollment fraud: the number of kids coming into Berkeley on BART every morning, the number of grade-schoolers who don’t use school bus service, the number of families who don’t list addresses in school directories.

Observers point to demographics as well; because the percentage of African-American students in Berkeley schools is higher than the percentage of African-American residents reported in the 2010 census for the city, many of those kids must be from other cities, critics argue. Those claims bring out accusations of racism, and the conversation gets ugly.

BUSD says there is not a particular demographic group enrolling fraudulently, rather it covers the whole spectrum. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

BUSD says there is not a particular demographic group enrolling fraudulently, rather it covers the whole spectrum. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

The problem for parents isn’t just about tax money. Some complain that the out-of-district students, who are presumed to come from low-income families, are creating more discipline problems. Others complain about the “rich Oakland Hills” families that send their kids to Berkeley for a free ride.

“There’s not a particular group (enrolling fraudulently),” Martinez said. “It covers the whole spectrum.”

However, amidst all the speculation, one factor that casual observers need to consider is that more than 1,000 students without permanent Berkeley addresses attend Berkeley schools legally. In addition, a large number of children in joint custody live in two households, and so may appear to be out-of-towners. In other words, the number of “unofficial transfers” may be lower than it appears.

Legal out-of-towners makes the issue complicated

Josh Daniels. Photo: Josh Daniels

Josh Daniels: he himself sometimes traveled to Berkeley schools from outside the city. Photo: Josh Daniels

“[This enrollment issue] is much more complicated than people would like to think it is,” said School Board President Josh Daniels.

Daniels pointed to his own case, growing up in Berkeley. When he was 6, his parents divorced and his dad moved to Walnut Creek. Daniels split his time between the two homes, so sometimes he was coming to school from Walnut Creek. The district doesn’t have numbers for how many kids live in more than one household, since only their Berkeley address is required.

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, agreed that residency can be complicated when students have fluctuating home situations.

“They are in and out of Berkeley, living with a grandmother for a while, an aunt for while. There’s a flow of families in and out of Berkeley –- that’s part of what makes it complex,” Campbell said.

Then there are the transfer students — meaning they live in another city and have requested to transfer from their local school district to Berkeley. Martinez said there are 599 transfers this year, out of roughly 9,500 students — about 6% of the student population. That’s about 46 students per grade. According to Asst. BUSD Superintendent Smith, transfer numbers have gone way down since the era of Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, who believed in boosting revenue by filling empty classroom space with transfers.

This year, 48 transfer students were newly admitted. Of those, 30 are the children of employees. (The union contract gives employees the right to enroll their children in Berkeley schools, regardless of where they live.) Half were admitted to kindergarten, the rest to other grades. About one-third of transfer permit requests were granted; two-thirds were turned down for lack of space.

(Albany appears to have far more transfer students than Berkeley: 12% of its 3,850 students last year, compared to Berkeley’s 6% of the student body this year. Still, in recent years, said an administrator, Albany has been accepting only employees’ children as transfers.)

Another 5% of students in Berkeley schools are listed as homeless — that’s 478 kids at present, according to Susan Craig, director of student services. The majority of homeless families in the district are doubled up in homes with friends or relatives, according to Craig, with a smaller number living in motels, shelters, transitional housing, vehicles and churches.

“If they lack a fixed night-time residence, they are, by federal definition, homeless,” Craig said.

No matter where they land temporarily — Berkeley or elsewhere — they have the right, under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act, to stay at the school they were already in, if they choose to do so. The goal is to provide one source of stability in the children’s lives, while their families move around. (See p. 13 of the act.) If families resettle permanently in another community, they are expected to enroll their kids there.

In the recent past, the district did not check in with homeless families to find out if they were still homeless, Craig said. Clearly, this represented an opportunity to stay in Berkeley schools for the formerly homeless. It’s even possible families that were never homeless registered as such in kindergarten in order to get into the district.

And, in fact, the current school year started with 600 students listed as homeless. In the fall of 2013, for the first time, district officials asked the families to verify their status; 122 came forward with the information that they are not homeless now. Those 122 students are allowed to finish out the school year, but, if they no longer live in Berkeley, they will have to request – and be granted – a transfer in order to return next year. Another status check is currently underway, Martinez said.

In summary, that’s 1,077 students — 11% of the student population of about 9,500 — who don’t have a permanent home in Berkeley, but attend school here legally. That makes for a lot of kids not on the school bus or perhaps taking BART to school.

Still, no one – neither district administrators, nor school board members – is denying that others are here illegally.

Proof of residency: three proofs required

Critics say the district should do more to catch people cheating their way into school.

What the school district does now is require three proofs of residency from families entering the district. One must be a utility bill (PG&E, water, garbage, phone, cable, internet). The other two can include a driver’s license, bank statement, or paycheck stub.

What the district doesn’t ask for is a mortgage document or a rental lease.

The Berkeley Accountable Schools Project recommends that the district require a deed or rental lease, and that renters provide a copy of the landlord’s rental license. The idea is that proof of ownership or rental would make enrollment fraud more difficult to pull off.

First day of school at John Muir Elementary: BUSD now requires three proofs of residency from families entering the district. Photo: BUSD/Mark Coplan

First day of school at John Muir Elementary: BUSD now requires three proofs of residency from families entering the district. Photo: Mark Coplan

But Martinez, who has been admissions manager for 14 years, says that leases can be faked, making them almost worthless.

“It’s easy to find a lease online,” Martinez said. Furthermore, bona fide mortgages can be used falsely, if they are for property in Berkeley that the parents rent out, while they live elsewhere.

The idea is that utility bills are not as easy to fake. However, one parent who spoke to Berkeleyside last fall demonstrated a way around that. An Oakland mom, she used her parents’ Berkeley address to enroll her son at Berkeley High this past year. She took over their bills, set up a bank account at that address, and changed her driver’s license.

Knowing that her parents had paid tax in Berkeley since the 1980s and never sent anyone to public school helped ease her conscience, she said.

“The hardest part about this is asking ‘David’ to lie,” said the mother. She had looked at Oakland Tech for her son, she said, but Berkeley High seemed better organized and less chaotic. They couldn’t afford private school.

So if leases and utility bills can be faked, what can and does the district do?

Enrollment enforcement: home visits require respect

Martinez said that when something on an enrollment form seems off — a telephone exchange from outside Berkeley for example — his office checks it. In some cases, a BUSD employee makes a home visit to verify the child lives at the address. Sometimes, Martinez said, when parents are told there could be a home visit, they come forward and admit to using a false address.

Martinez said visits generally occur early in the morning before school or in the evening. The child must be home and is often asked to show the inspector around the house, including where they sleep and where they keep their belongings. It’s an awkward job.

“We have to be respectful and ask for permission,” Martinez said.

District staff members (mainly one employee), conducted 358 home visits for the 2013-2014 school year (mostly in the summer before school began). This year, 290 of those cases were approved for enrollment, while 66 were denied.

“This past summer we really ramped up the home visit process. There were more denials to families,” Craig said.

Of those home visits, 27 of them were to families with caregiver affidavits. Those are cases where the child lives full-time with another adult, often a grandparent, in Berkeley, while the parents live elsewhere. Every caregiver affidavit situation gets a home visit, Martinez said.

The district first hired an investigator in 2005, but the position was empty for a while a few years later. It has since been filled. This year, the district hired another part-time person to help with address verifications.

In addition, every student’s address gets re-checked when they submit their paperwork to enter middle school, Martinez said. Re-verifications don’t happen again for entering high school, but Martinez said it’s being considered.

In a related issue, the district also takes a look at its legal transfer students every year, Martinez said. Each principal is given a list of transfer students, who must have a good record of attendance, no serious discipline problems, and a satisfactory academic performance to continue at the school. If students don’t meet all of those requirements, their transfer permit is not renewed. Students are advised of these conditions when they get their transfer permit, and if they’re not doing well, they receive a warning letter in January. This past summer, the district denied permits to 108 students for these reasons, and kept another 553 students

What Berkeley’s neighbors are doing

Critics say Berkeley Unified should follow the example of neighboring districts, and do more to verify residency.

Piedmont, one of the most highly regarded school districts in Northern California, has developed a complex set of rules to make sure its students live in Piedmont.

Piedmont requires that both parents, if married, live in town. This is to prevent a family from renting a place in Piedmont to gain access to the school system, while maintaining a primary residence elsewhere.

If divorced parents have joint custody, the student must live 50% of the time with the parent in Piedmont (at least during the school year). The district reserves the right to see custody papers.

“If a student had one parent that lived in Berkeley and stayed once in a while with their parent who lived in Piedmont,” then that child would be considered a resident of Berkeley for the purposes of school enrollment,” said Constance Hubbard, the superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School District.

As for paperwork, in addition to three proofs of residency — similar to Berkeley’s list of accepted documents — Piedmont also requires a grant deed, a property tax statement, or a rental lease.

To discourage people from assuming the bills of a Piedmont homeowner (like ‘David’’s mother), the school district reserves the right to prosecute anyone who allows their address to be used to register a student falsely, although, Hubbard said that she does not think anyone has ever been prosecuted.

Piedmont also has an on-call, hourly investigator who makes home visits, often early in the morning. The most home visits the investigator has made in a year is five, according to Constance Hubbard, the school superintendent.

In 2011, the Albany Unified School District made a concerted effort to identify fraudulently enrolled students. First the district offered amnesty; if families came forward, those students could finish the school year, and apply for a transfer to stay.

After the amnesty, any student caught would be kicked out of school right away. By October 2011, the district had discovered 35 students enrolled illegally and were scrutinizing another 200.

Since 2011, Albany has required all families to verify their residency every year, according to Marsha Brown, director of student services, and, like in Piedmont, a mortgage or lease document is required.

“Does it act as a deterrent?” Brown said about the annual re-verification. “I believe so. Is it foolproof? No.” Just recently, she said, the district found three families using the same rental address – so clearly attempts at fraud continue. Brown said she thought about 95% of Albany parents support the annual re-verification process. Albany residents, like Berkeley, pay a parcel tax to benefit the schools.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District in Southern California also requires families to re-verify their addresses. Officials randomly select one-third of the student body to check every year, according to a BHUSD spokesman. Prior to this re-verification, in 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported an example of enrollment fraud in Beverly Hills that could have come out of a Hollywood script: “One memorable incident involved the parent who went to a Beverly Hills home and placed a mailbox with her name on it in the front yard. The actual owner alerted school officials, who removed the box and expelled the student…”

Illegal enrollment not always best for the student

Another problem with students attending illegally, Fried stated in her 2005 report, is that it can put the students at a disadvantage.

In talking to grade-school teachers, who often knew where students lived, Fried found that the unofficially enrolled students had more tardies – often due to commutes and traffic — and so missed more time in school.

In one case, the teacher said of a struggling learner from Concord who missed reading class many days, “We believe [he] would be better off at a [Concord] school.”

Another concern was lack of contact with the families trying to lie low. Sometimes teachers found the phone numbers listed for those families were not correct.

Students at King Middle School: illegal enrollment is not always the best choice for kids. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Students at King Middle School: illegal enrollment is not always the best choice for kids. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

However, according to one Berkeley High School teacher, that problem has diminished over the past decade, with email, cell phones and PowerSchool, the online student record system accessible to families.

“It’s a lot easier to reach parents now. I can assume there’s a cell phone and I am getting a parent directly,” the teacher said.

The teacher, along with many BUSD officials and school board members, seems to have an unstated belief that Berkeley is a more tolerant, inclusive community that sees the benefit of an educated citizenry. As such, Berkeley has a responsibility to all students – even those who live outside the district. What would happen to those students kicked out? Would the older students transfer to their hometown schools, or would some drop out? What would happen to struggling students if they attended a school with fewer resources?

“If you have an opportunity to educate more students in a more stable environment, at a better school, why would we limit that?” said the teacher. “We don’t see out of district kids as a drawback. In fact, I want to teach as many kids as possible.”

Report recommended ‘regularizing’ unofficial transfers

In Rinat Fried’s 2005 report she recommended that Berkeley “regularize” its unofficial transfers because of the financial gain, and try to get them enrolled legally. To do this, she said, the district would have to require “stricter proof of residency rules.”

This recommendation has a flaw though, said board member Josh Daniels. To transfer legally, the students need to get a release from their hometown district — which another district might decline to do as it would rather keep ADA funding than give it away to Berkeley.

The Berkeley Accountable Schools Project website recommends that, in addition to tightening documentation requirements, the district should establish an anonymous tip-line to report illegal enrollments, follow up on those, and offer an amnesty program to lower enforcement costs.

What does the district plan to do?

With the hiring in recent years of home inspectors, the increased number of home visits last summer, and the follow-up last fall on homeless families, the district contends it is taking steps towards reducing unofficial transfers. The district also is working harder to scrutinize incoming enrollments, Martinez said.

“We’re trying to prevent the problem rather than having to deal with it later,” he said.

But it has not taken any of the larger measures called for by critics. With enrollment for kindergarten in the fall already underway, no changes have been made to documentation requirements.

And an annual re-verification of all students, like Albany does, would require more staff.

The BUSD school board meeting at its new meeting space on Bonar St.: the district contends it is taking steps towards reducing unofficial transfers. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

The BUSD school board at its new meeting space on Bonar Street: the district contends it is taking steps towards reducing unofficial transfers. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

One anonymous teacher claimed that the teachers union doesn’t support cracking down.

“From my many years as a teacher in Berkeley …. The teachers’ union is very aware of the problem, but their response is they don’t care about enforcing the rules because more students (from wherever) means more jobs for Berkeley teachers (and consequently more dues-paying members),” wrote the commentator who identified himself or herself as “rhuberry.” “I was on the BFT [teachers union] executive board for a few years so I know of what I speak. Complaints would come in from teachers who felt overwhelmed by too many difficult students, many from out of district, and wanted some support from the union. Union wouldn’t take a stand on enforcing enrollment procedures.”

Asst. Superintendent Smith called the issue “important — it’s on our radar — people are aware of it.” But pressed on priorities, Smith said: “Of course, it’s not our number one priority. We have to educate the kids that are here.”

He added: “This year, the transition to Common Core is a major undertaking. And now there’s a new local control funding formula and accountability plan. It’s a major change in how district receives and spends state funding.”

In other words, the district has its hands full.

School Board President Josh Daniels also stressed that the district has a lot of other issues on its plate. And he declined to speak for the whole board, because the board hasn’t discussed the issue, as a group, in quite a while. (“Although I know individually we’ve been thinking about it,” Daniels said.)

Speaking only for himself, Daniels said that he understands that parents want to see the issue as simple when their kids are crowded into classrooms and put on wait-lists. “But the problem is not easily definable. And the solution is even more difficult.”

That said, Daniels indicated that the district and the community will probably be discussing illegal enrollment over the next two years. “We’re going to engage in a pretty robust process in terms of developing next BSEP measure,” he said. “If it appears more attention [to illegal enrollment] is necessary, we can address it through that process.”

Frances Dinkelspiel contributed to the reporting of this article.

Portable classroom plan at Berkeley schools delayed (06.27.13)
Berkeley High expands with the opening of a new building (03.19.14)

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  • Tony Walnuts

    Measures I and H.

  • guest

    A Wall! You got it: there’s the solution.

  • Bishop George Berkeley

    I miss Chris. They had some really solid reporting there waaaay back in the day.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    He can’t remember which lie he told who…I’ve seen it backfire on him several times, twice just dealing with our family.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    I also will get involved…and I’m sure i will be burned at the stake as a result of it but i think this time it’s necessary.

  • Lester St Gwen

    “I always wonder how parents of kids who are enrolled illegally justify it to their children.”
    … and what the longer term social consequences thereof? I imagine this leads to cultures of entitlement thinking, cheap rationalizations, needless demonization of ‘other’, zealous advocates spewing formulaic excuses, and otherwise-sensible caring folk sadly alienated from neighbors and peers, all to keep up a lie. Ah, Berkeley.

  • Guest

    Why aren’t her taxes part of the equation?? Everyone here is posting that people are stealing the $$ they pay in bsep well she pays that money too…. I feel like if we want to actually change things we have to do it on an ideological level not using a monetary argument as the $$ argument makes no sense when the amount paid in taxes is the same if you have 0, 1, or 4 children, the resources are not being used equally.

  • Guest

    When Albany and piedmont require a deed or rental agreement for enrollment, how does that account for homeless students?

  • joannatheresa75

    I taught school in two of the New England states where this “perk” was not even on the radar. I’ll have to let some former colleagues know what they may be missing. For the record, I no longer work in education.

  • Bishop George Berkeley

    No, I don’t think it speaks to the issue at all. Tech has improved to the point where there are even a few Berkeley kids “sneaking across the border” to go there. (Yes, a case can be made for Tech over BHS. It may not convince many, but it convinces some.) And there’s Skyline. And there are private schools. Not really so radically different from someone living on the other side of Alcatraz from you.

  • guest

    Like (the other) guest, I just have not come across this. Obviously some kids with divorced parents where only on lives in Berkeley and there is 50-50 custody (including one of my siblings). But that is kosher..

  • Wanderer

    You’re only half right. Piedmont did incorporate in the 1870′s, but in response to Oakland’s effort to annex a territory that it fully surrounded. It wasn’t a racial issue, but a social class issue.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Burned at the stake is how i feel when i have an opinion that differs than the traditional “Non progressive Berkeley opinion” living in Berkeley My whole life i have experienced this a lot. i also feel there are a lot of folks who feel the same way that’s why some people go along thinking everyone thinks the same as themselves. in 2016 you will be shocked to find out just how many people actually feel the same as me when BSEP doesn’t get approval.

  • Berkeley Accountable Schools

    BSEP is a parcel tax, not a usage tax, so the number of children doesn’t matter. The size of your parcel is what counts for the tax. Where the child actually lives is what counts for school enrollment. This is true across the state and most of the country and is a huge part of why families move to new cities “for the schools.” Only in the East Bay do so many fraudsters feel that their connections entitle them to crowd Berkeley schools without contributing.

    The voters supported BSEP to fund BUSD, whose mission is to educate the residents of Berkeley and legal transfers. If BUSD’s intention is to educate the broader East Bay, they should put that to the voters and see what happens, but they won’t.

    The child described above is not a resident of Berkeley nor a legal transfer and is not eligible to enroll in BUSD, no matter how many parcels grandma owns.

    If, however, grandma becomes responsible for the full time care for the child, who then lives full time with grandma, she could file a sworn affidavit, subject to re-verification, attesting that she is the child’s caregiver (while, for example, the mother is in prison or on active military duty). The child would then be a resident of Berkeley and the affidavit would entitle grandma to enroll her in BUSD without being her legal guardian.

    Interestingly, BSEP contains a clause that exempts very low-income seniors from paying the parcel tax. So, in one scenario, grandma could pay nothing at all and yet, as the child’s caregiver, still enroll the child in school.

  • bgal4

    I would like to know if BUSD ever had a public discussion about using the District of Choice option which would legitimize their rogue practice of poaching students from the entire east bay.

    I was not aware of this law, so I would like to hear from Josh Daniels, an attorney for the California School Boards Association, about the district’s position. I am starting to understand his comment “it’s complicated”.

    A case study of the a California’s Districts of Choice

    I think the follow-up story should include stories from Berkeley families about the hardships they experience due to unintended and under-reported consequences of the district methods.

  • bn

    I do not think everyone agrees with me and you could be right, but i don’t think so.. However, among the outraged folks they have to be willing to starve their kid’s schools of funding to make a point. A point that may not come to fruition until it is too late for their kids b/c all extras have been cut by the time BUSD imposes whatever types of checks the campaign is calling for. Most people do not have that sort of resolve and ability to take short term pain to make a political point (and lets face it, for most people- present company excepted- this issue if not exactly up there with apartheid or union busting in their workplace).

    Heck, if BESP is the only reason BUSD is desirable, maybe voting it down will make the schools just as crappy as the surrounding districts and no one will want to transfer anymore! Win-win. (and if they do- we won’t be “paying for illegals”- the state will)

    Like you I grew up here so know literally 1000′s of voters in this town, My parents generation are all homeowners and I can think of a few who might possibly vote down a school tax, but very, very few. I think you know the demographic of the over 60′s in this town. Renters will not vote it down. No one in my social circle/large extended family(which includes many BUSD teachers I will admit). So we will see. You will be up against the teacher’s union if you try to vote down BESP and they will make sure parents know exactly how it will affect their kids next year. Better get to work.

  • Big Bear

    The most prominent result, over the short term and the long term, of illegal enrollments in Berkeley schools, has been to import violence, black-on-white and black-on-brown racism, disturbances, distractions, robberies, degraded classroom conditions, and in general to degrade the educational environment. Students know this and have known it for 50 years (see the discussion below for evidence), parents know it, teachers know it. But it is not discussed. Instead, what matters overwhelming to the powers on top — the administration, schoolboard and unions — and what student, teaches and education is subordinated to and sacrificed to — is the cash flow. This shows in 95% of the discussion below. This is not about Berkeley white racism. Most of us who grew up in the SF bay region have black friends from our childhoods or our teens — blacks part of the local integrated culture that goes back to the Gold Rush, or who have acclimated to it. And who do not attack us on racist grounds any more than we attack them. The problem is the legacy of Kaiser’s shipyards and a half dozen bay area enclaves that still think they’re living in Texas and we’re all crackers. We are enabling these communities to perpetuate their own degradation, and ours. Will Berkeley get a clue? Does the Pope eat Bears? Do Bears celebrate Christmas? Is the moon made of geviltafish? Would you like to build a bridge? At this rate, Berkeley deserves what it gets, and boy do we get it.

  • guest

    The 10% cited above is out of district- not necessarily illegal. The study cited etc does not control for split custody, legit transfers, BUSD employee kids.
    (I get that the Berkeley accountable schools project thinks the fraudulent enrollment is more like 25-50%, but that number does not seem to be cited by anyone else.)

  • Mal Warwick

    This is a terrific piece of journalism — precisely the sort of article that makes local reporting so important.

    Along the way, I noted this: “The number of students enrolled in Berkeley schools is at a high: 9,581.” So, we have fewer than 10,000 students in school out of a population of 115,000? Of course, the number is a little worse than that, because of the illegal enrollments. Either way, though, the statistic makes me wonder how many Berkeley children and youth are enrolled in private schools. The census data for Berkeley suggests that 13% of our residents are under 18, or about 15,000. They’re not all of school age, of course. But any way you cut it, private schools must attract an unusually large number of Berkeley students compared to most cities of our size.

  • Cammy

    By the way, when I called the district I was told they “do not” check homes to see if students really live there. I was told “Unlike Albany, they DO NOT have the money to do this.”

  • rhuberry

    They seem to have the personnel already employed as noted in various comments. I wonder what Francisco Martinez’s job description is. What does he do during every day if not at least some home visits? How many other employees are in his department and what do they do? I think not enough money is a convenient excuse. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the BSEP money also might go to attendance/truancy issues. Wouldn’t that be ironic?!!

  • rhuberry

    They do. At various times over the years, I’ve heard estimates of anywhere between 25 and 30% of school age kids go to private schools. It’s all so curious. Kids from town don’t want to go to the local schools, and kids from out of town lie to get in. Reasons I’ve heard that parents opt for private schools are the lack of rigor in public schools and so much disruptive behavior that takes away from learning time. So by not managing out-of-district enrollment properly by requiring permits and therefore agreement with the academic and behavior standards, Berkeley is chasing some of its own citizens away from the local schools.

  • guest

    15,000 under 18. If you assume rather even distribution 0-5, 6-11, 12-18 (ish) then assume about 5000 of those are under 5/6 years old (because many kids do not start kindergarten here until 6, or very close to. The numbers seem roughly right to me.

    I have heard there is a actually a baby boomlet, which would put the younger crowd at possibly a higher proportion.

  • John Taserman

    I can confirm this. I know multiple families who left BUSD for private k-8 because disruptive or low performing kids suck up all of the teacher time. And because GATE is not implemented.

    They return at high school where there is a form of tracking.

  • John Freetaser

    There is no boomlet in Berkeley. Demographic studies by BUSD point to a downward trend.

  • John Taserman

    They are lying.

  • Tasersaurus

    That option seems best suited for districts that fund programs with no additional parcel tax. This means they have to reach critical mass to offer special programming.

    BSEP should obviate the need for that if F Martinez did his job. Classes would be small, enriched, and aligned with the needs of Berkeley residents, both high- and low-achieving.

    What we have instead is an attractive resource that is being incompetently administered and a Board whose members keep ducking accountability for their inaction. So, the funds are diluted and the facilities are overcrowded with students whose needs aren’t well served.

    I wish we had people here thinking about STEM academies instead of racial politics from 40 years ago.

    Becoming a DoC could provide a way to deal with the reality that Berkeley’s population of school age children is declining. But the audit requirements would put an end to today’s racialized decision making.

  • bgal4

    Agreed. I believe the option is closed after 2007. But I still want to hear from former and current board members.

  • Big Bear

    Actually neither black nor white migrant shipyard workers were going to find housing they could afford in Palo Alto and Atherton either — “restrictive housing covenants” were not required then any more than now. The economics of predatory speculative housing, bank mortgages and landlord and realtor cartels serves just fine to segregate the well-to-do from riffraff of all colors.

  • BerkeleyParent

    For those folks who are interested in enforcing illegal enrollment more actively, what would be the best course of action? It seems more effective to pool resources and our voices (i.e. start an online petition) rather than attempt to reach out to our councilpeople or attempt to vote as a means of protest.

    As I’m very unfamiliar with this matter, I would leave the details of an economically feasible enrollment review process to some of you who had well-formed ideas about the specifics, but once someone has done so, I suggest that a petition be formed at: to focus our discontent into results. I know that I, for one, would be happy to sign something with thousands of people supporting my perspective to take to our political representatives as a means of affecting change.

  • Berkeley Accountable Schools

    There’s this petition, which they’ve already ignored. Wouldn’t even acknowledge the request to put it on a school board meeting agenda, as required under state code:

    35145.5. It is the intent of the Legislature that members of the
    public be able to place matters directly related to school district
    business on the agenda of school district governing board meetings.

    And the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury, which has jurisdiction over school boards, declined to hear a complaint.

    If you want to try another tack, please do.

  • Zorch

    I dont think the problems with Oakland’s schools can be blamed all on the students.

  • disqus_S1ql48Vi9i

    Well done article! Infuriating!

  • mr isaac

    What’s the difference between a Liberal and a Racist? Racists don’t want minorities to be FREE. Liberals want them to be FREE, but they don’t want minorities to be EQUAL. Congrats Berkeleyside – your liberal credentials have been firmly established.

  • John Taserman

    I don’t understand. What prevents minorities from a) living in Berkeley and enrolling in public school or b) applying for legal transfer permits?

    Or are you saying that some groups must rely on illegal activity to achieve equality? Because that sounds kind of racist.

  • Tasersaurus

    Immigration really isn’t the same.

    Someone who wants Berkeley schools and doesn’t get a transfer permit can always move. There’s no legal obstacle there. The same is not true for someone who can’t get a visa.

    This greatly diminishes the “humanitarian” claims for school transfers.

  • John Saggett

    THREE main problems with illegal students in BUSD: 1) NEIL SMITH: “Asst. Superintendent Smith called the issue “important — it’s on our radar — people are aware of it.” But pressed on priorities, Smith said: “Of course, it’s not our number one priority. We have to educate the kids that are here.” But Neil, many of the “kids that are here” are out-of-district illegally!; 2) FRANCISCO MARTINEZ: “That includes hiring an investigator to make home visits to verify people’s addresses and updating the status of homeless families. “We are doing a much more thorough job now,” Martinez said.” Prove it, Francisco!; and 3) BERKELEY LIBERALISM GONE MAD: “teacher(s), along with many BUSD officials and school board members, seem to have an unstated belief that Berkeley is a more tolerant, inclusive community that sees the benefit of an educated citizenry. As such, Berkeley has a responsibility to all students – even those who live outside the district.” How is it that the School Board gets its way to spend Berkeley property owner taxes on Oakland (etc.) residents?

  • John Saggett

    Another important issue is that out-of-district students do not have the same “buy-in” to their school community that resident students have. This makes it difficult for teachers to build community in the classroom. This “outsider student” mentality creates a lack of caring for their classroom, their school and for the school system. And this attitude continues all the way up through 12th grade.

  • John Saggett

    Strongly agree. The more out of district students, the less focus on our own Berkeley resident students that need more focus and attention in the classroom. Yes, OUR OWN students. As a Berkeley home owner, I believe we are abandoning these students in order to promote teaching all of the East Bay. Shame on you, BUSD and School Board! Time to change your practices.

  • John Saggett

    Reducing the number of students would reduce the number of classrooms, meaning it would reduce the number of teachers necessary and possibly the number of schools. Teacher’s Union would not stand for losing teachers–even if it means looking the other way to illegal out-of-district students. Hey, Teacher’s Union: Being a bystander to bullying is not a “good teaching practice.”

  • John Saggett

    I am not affiliated with BASP. I am a 30+ year resident of Berkeley with 2 children as students. You sound like you might work for the District. May I ask who YOU are and what is YOUR affiliation to BUSD? Please “come out of hiding”, endtheBASP.

  • John Saggett

    Just to clarify: BSEP stands for BERKELEY Schools Excellence
    Program. To quote the Berkeley Public School website: BSEP was a “response to school funding shortages in the wake of Prop. 13″.
    Now, if this does not clarify that ONLY Berkeley residents should benefit from BSEP, I don’t know what does.

  • John Saggett

    My understanding from news journalist friends is that a “no comment” is assumed to be an admission of SOME wrongdoing. And it puts the journalist on edge to get to the bottom of it. I hope, Mary Flaherty, that you feel the same sense of urgency to pursue this matter in the same way that other journalists might.

  • endtheBASP

    Gladly, once the Berkeley accountable schools tells us who they are. I will tell you, that I am not affiliated with the district however.

  • Kathleen Russell

    Only out of district kids are problem?

  • Kathleen Russell

    Most of us have Black friends from our childhood… really and do you visit? Did you go to their homes? Do respect the difference in culture? Apparently not.

  • Kathleen Russell


  • Antonio Noguerra

    Only in-district kids are in the scope of BUSD.

  • Antonio Noguerra

    I agree. Teaching children to steal IS disgusting. Thank you for voicing that.

  • Cammy

    Well, then there’s a lot of fear about parents, and the administration being called “racists.” I witnessed a student actually bullying a teacher from outside a classroom at my daughter’s Berkeley elementary school. Later that day I said, “My goodness, does she always speak to the teacher like that?” My daughter said, “Yes” and that the teacher always backs down – that the mother came in one day and yelled at the teacher in front of the class.