PVPUSD headquarters

Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District headquarters at the former Malaga Cove School. (Daily Breeze file photo)

Faced with declining student enrollment, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District will begin granting permits to students whose grandparents live in the district.

The district previously only gave permits to students living outside the district if their parent or guardian worked on the Peninsula, under a longstanding policy, or if a parent or guardian is a member of the U.S. military, a policy enacted a three years ago.

Under the new policy, which was approved Feb. 27, the district will prioritize those students whose grandparents live in the district the longest and may deny entry to students in middle and high school with a grade point average below 2.0.

“In order to retain the programs that we offer, and in order to keep low class sizes, we have to look at our finances,” said Superintendent Alex Cherniss. “We have some real financial issues and the board of education saw this as a potential solution.”

Over the past five years, the district has seen its enrollment drop by 500 students to 11,000. With an annual budget of $120 million, the enrollment decline represented a 10 percent loss of revenue, Cherniss said.

“This is not a unique thing to Palos Verdes,” said Cherniss who formerly worked as the chief financial officer for Los Angeles County Office of Education. “Over half of the school districts in California are in decline.”

Cherniss estimates the district will receive 10 to 20 applications from the grandparent permitting. Currently, 614 students attend schools in the district on permits related to a parent’s employment.

“It’s a creative way to address an issue and support our schools in a way that still honors the residents,” Cherniss said.

In Manhattan Beach, enrollment has dropped 300 students in the past five years, down to 6,647 in the 2017-18 school year. In Redondo Beach Unified School District, enrollment is up by about 2,000 students from 10 years ago. The district now has about 10,000 students, 798 of whom attend on an inter-district permit.

PVPUSD board president Linda Reid said when she was younger, her own family moved to the Peninsula for the school district, fitting into a small home because it was the most they could afford.

The district continues to be one of the highest performing academically in the state, recently ranked 8th in California by the online site Niche, which compares districts based on a variety of measures.

“We would have rented an apartment if we didn’t get the house because the school district was so important,” she said.

Since enacting the new permit policy, Reid said she received mixed reactions from residents.

“I’ve heard mostly they are super excited. I did have two emails this morning from people who were unhappy about it,” Reid said on Friday, March 1. “One woman said she moved here and spent a lot of money on their home.”

Reid and others on the board said the new policy would help get grandparents more involved in the school district. Many grandparents already provide childcare for households with two working parents, Reid said.

Former school board member Ginny Snider, who has two young grandchildren in the district, said several of her friends would like to send their grandchildren to Palos Verdes schools, but until now have been unable because they don’t live in the district.

“When you live near the schools your grandchildren are attending it is such a benefit,” Snider said.

For those families considering applying for an inter-district permit, they first need to receive permission from their existing school district, a process that often requires appealing the ruling to the Los Angeles County Board of Education, Cherniss said.

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