Claremont Insider: Getting Schooled

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Getting Schooled


When the Claremont Unified School District first raised the idea of floating a $95 million school bond, a reader wrote in with a few questions about the district:

DATE: Wed, July 21, 2010 7:29:46 AM
: Claremont Buzz

Isn’t the enrollment decreasing? I think school districts, including colleges, do whatever they can to keep expanding even when enrollment is falling. How many students attending school in Claremont are from out of the area? How many of Claremont ’s star athletes and scholastic award winners are actually not Claremont residents?

In answer to the reader's first question, enrollment hasn't fallen in recent years, at least the last time we checked. It seems to have stayed mostly flat, but the number of interdistrict transfers, students from outside of the district's enrollment area, has increased greatly.

Back in February, CUSD said that the district's enrollment had increased from 6,625 in the 2000-01 school year to 7,044 in 2009-10. The district also said interdistrict transfers increased from 787 to 1200 in the same period. So almost all of the increase, 413 out of 419, came from kids who don't live in CUSD's area. In other words, in 10 years interdistrict transfers increased by 52.5% while the number of Claremont kids increased by a total of 6 students, or about 1/10 of one-percent.

Now, if you listen to CUSD and the Claremont 400, these interdistrict transfers generate net income. However, they never give any numbers to support those statements, and no study has ever been done comparing the cost of this artificial increase in the student population with the savings that would be generated by having a slimmed-down district.

The other thing CUSD ignores is the fact that those interdistrict transfers get the benefit of any bond measures the district floats without having to pay for them since only properties within the district's boundaries get assessed to pay for the bond. So there is a fairness factor involved, too.

We think this business of interdistrict transfers is just another numbers game CUSD plays without proper consideration of any alternatives or any sense of how their games play out in the real world.


Another reader wrote to say that we should see a documentary film called "The Cartel," which debuted at the end of May. The film examines the workings of the state of public education in New Jersey. It seemed to get good audience reviews, but the mainstream media reviews were mixed at best, as in this NY Times blurb:
A mind-numbing barrage of random television clips and trash-talking heads, “The Cartel” purports to be a documentary about the American public school system. In reality, however, it’s a bludgeoning rant against a single state — New Jersey — which it presents as a closed loop of Mercedes-owning administrators, obstructive teachers’ unions and corrupt school boards.

The NYT reviewer and some of the others were were able to find seemed to agree that the outrages (such as a missing $1 billion in school construction money) mentioned in "The Cartel" by filmmaker and journalist Bob Bowdon were substantive but didn't like the film's tone.

The NYT piece pointed out that any such examination is a complex matter, and perhaps it is asking too much of the documentary format to examine all of the nuances involved. As with the city of Bell, we suspect that what happened to schools in New Jersey is at the far end of the school scandal spectrum, but we also think that even in a district as small as Claremont's such waste occurs, not necessarily out of maliciousness or criminality so much as because of a sort of institutional arrogance and false sense of infallibility.

Here, our ruling cartel just has a larger margin of error than New Jersey, though they seem to be doing their best to run through that.