schools.jpgThe San Francisco school board made a decision on school boundaries Tuesday that was meant to give parents better choices for where their children attend school, but not everyone is pleased.

The 6-0 vote redrew old boundaries and was essentially meant to give children a higher likelihood of attending schools near them, which has satisfied some parents and alienated others, a parents’ group spokeswoman said.

“Parents may be objecting if they live within a boundary of a school that they perceive as a school they don’t want,” said Ellie Rossiter, executive director of Parents for Public Schools in San Francisco. The organization is part of a national nonprofit that aims to educate parents about public schools.

The boundaries have been redrawn for the first time since the 1980s and are part of a new student assignment system adopted by the board in March.

The new system is meant to move away from older selection techniques, which included looking at a home’s income level and whether a child had attended preschool.

The old system also tried to balance school populations, meaning that if a child from a high-income household was chosen for a school, then another from a low-income house would be chosen.

“It was starting to look like a random lottery,” Rossiter said. “Parents couldn’t know if they had an advantage or a disadvantage because they didn’t know what the applicant pool looked like.”

In the new system, if an elementary school has a higher number of applicants than slots for children, the school uses a number of tiebreakers to make their decision.

The most important tiebreaker is whether or not an older sibling attends the school.

Second, schools want to know if a child has attended a district preschool.

The third tiebreaker looks at test scores. If a student applying to the school lives in an area with low test scores, that student will get preference on which school they wish to attend.

The fourth tiebreaker gives preference to students who apply to schools in their newly redrawn boundaries.

“That may seem pretty far down on the list,” Rossiter said. “But in some cases the first three tie breakers don’t apply to the selection process.”

The fifth tiebreaker gives preference to students who live in dense areas with more children than spaces schools.

“We’ve heard from some parents about confusion over some of the tie breakers,” Rossiter said. “It takes a lot to orient yourself around these complex processes.”

San Francisco Unified School District spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said the new system is necessary because it reflects changes in the district over the past 30 years.

“We’re trying to decrease racial isolation and help families better understand how the process works,” she said. “We continue to support families and their desire to choose among all schools in the city.”

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

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