Sunday, May 25, 2014

Does Hillsboro Hold Hostages?

At the last board work session, there were some objections to my use of the word "hostage" to describe a certain class of students. Suppose you were in this situation:
  • Your child's circumstances have changed (academic issues, unavailability of desired class, bullying incidents, misdirected discipline, etc) and you really want them in another school.
  • Due to poor past interactions with district staff or administrators, you are more comfortable transferring to another district than going to another school in HSD.
  • The nearby Beaverton school district has open slots in one school, and has accepted your child.
  • Hillsboro has refused to grant a "release", so your child (and the corresponding tax money) are not allowed to go to Beaverton.
  • Your financial circumstances do not allow you to pay tuition or send your child to private school.
In other words, your child is not getting an appropriate education here, there is a slot for them at a good school in another district, and the only thing stopping them from going is that Hillsboro wants to keep your child in place in order to keep your share of tax money.

What would you call this circumstance? How would you feel if this happened to you, and your child was forced to stay in Hillsboro despite major problems that are negatively impacting their education or safety?   I say that it is unfair and unethical for a school district to refuse the inter-district transfer when parents decide it would be appropriate.  And if someone is being held in a school district that they do not desire in order to extract money from them, I think "hostage" is a perfectly appropriate term.

The discussion in the meeting was about the inter-district transfer process for this year. The original proposal was to put a cap of 20 on releases for such transfers out of Hillsboro, and if more than that apply, the rest would have to stay in our district.  I should point out that there was a separate state-mandated Open Enrollment process earlier in the year, where no student could be stopped from leaving.   But there's always the chance that someone's circumstances have changed, or their parents were not aware of the tight deadline for Open Enrollment, and I still think they deserve the right to transfer through this process as well.     Not to mention the fact that the previous board used legal loopholes to effectively negate Open Enrollment, and who knows when the law might change again.    So I do not believe we should have a cap on releases.

Surely, there is some level of financial risk to the district, if for some reason there is suddenly a huge wave of transfer requests. But this is not significantly greater than other risks we constantly face-- sudden condemnation of our bleachers in one field, collapsed well in some school, etc, that we plug with emergency funds when needed.   It's also no different than the financial risk that other businesses, including private schools, continually face if they are not properly serving their customers. (Actually the risk is a bit less, since we get to keep a small proportion of each transfer student's tax share for overhead.) And it seems to me that a small level of financial risk is much better for our district than the moral hazard of potentially holding some students as hostages for their tax money.

The good news is that, although some were offended by my terminology, our side ended up largely winning the argument.   We managed to increase the cap on releases from 20 to 100, which is much more than the number of new transfer requests we are likely to receive in a typical year. So now parents in Hillsboro have much more flexibility in case they need it, and at least this year HSD will not be holding any hostages.

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