School Boundary Changes – It Can Happen

LAUSD RSI Map Shopping for a new home? Want to make sure you land in the right school footprint?

This is the time of year where there is a lot of real estate movement as families relocate in advance of the coming school year.

But before you commit to a new lease or escrow, make sure you double check the address by plugging it into the LAUSD Resident School Identifier to verify which specific elementary, middle, and high school it is assigned to. Realtors are not always accurate. You don’t want to buy on the wrong side of the street. And it’s true, from time to time, school boundaries do change. Just because you can “see” that lovely school down the road, doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically get to “attend” it.

First, let’s get the lingo right. Every local neighborhood school has a designated zone around it which admits area residents who reside within that boundary. Sometimes this “zone” is also called an “attendance area,” “footprint” or “encatchment.” To confuse parents even further, some folks also refer to this school boundary as a “district” or “local district” which in my opinion is an unfortunate choice of wording that only tends to confound parents even more in an already confounding arena of uncertainty and cloudiness.

The use of the word “District,” in my opinion, should be reserved for allocating which “school district” as in which city we are talking about, such as Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), or Santa Monica-Malibu United School District (SMMUSD) or Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) or Las Virgenes Unified School District (LVUSD)…you get my drift. These are actual municipalities with their own collective of schools, governed and overseen by their own Local Education Agency (LEA), aka School District.

Because LAUSD is so large (2nd largest school district in the country under New York City), it is also organized by it’s own internal collection of “local districts” also known as Educational Service Centers divided geographically (ESC West, ESC North – which will be splitting into ESC NE and NW next year, ESC South and ESC East), so you see where the language, specifically the term “district” or “local district” can certainly get confusing.

(Magnets and charters and other types of school options do not typically come with attendance areas, so you will never be zoned to a magnet school or an indie charter. Caveat: there are exceptions to that last statement. But let’s press on. We’re talking about our local NEIGHBORHOOD schools. And their attendance areas. And more importantly, Boundary Changes.)

You should also know that occasionally local attendance areas can (and do) change.

Why? When the District determines they need to better balance enrollment in a specific area, they may move certain boundary lines to alleviate overcrowding in one school and fill available space in another nearby school.

Boundary changes, while infrequent in stable neighborhoods, can happen in response to shifts in demographics, population growth, urban development – think new high-rise multiple unit condo developments, the opening (or shuttering) of schools, and frankly what we’re seeing the most of – families that are either cramming into certain “hot” neighborhoods in order to attend the local “halo” school, opting out of certain “undesirable” neighborhood schools, or just generally being priced out of certain areas thereby prohibiting new families with young school-aged children from moving into the area. All of these neighborhood fluctuations – whether growing or declining – impact local school enrollments. Changing neighborhoods, changes in school performance and reputation, shifts in affordable real estate, not to mention the growing menu of school options that are NOT neighborhood schools (magnets, charters, language immersions, specialized academies), all directly impact neighborhood school enrollment.

Ivanhoe changesRecent population explosions in areas such as Carpenter and Colfax Elementary in Studio City, Ivanhoe Elementary on the Eastside, and the current debate raging at Westwood Charter Elementary in WLA (here and here) have angered residents who thought they had paid a premium just to live within a school’s footprint, only to find out that boundaries had or will likely change to accommodate the incoming swell of students. Conversely, while Santa Monica High School is at capacity, many of the Santa Monica elementary schools are actually under-enrolled due to the prohibitively high cost of buying even a condo, let alone a single-family starter home in that coveted Westside area.

Is there a way to avoid a local boundary change? Generally, this is out of parents’ domain and is determined by the Facilities Division of the local school district. If you are looking into real estate in order to attend a specific local school, my advice would be to land well within the center of the area, not on the periphery or outskirts of the attendance area. (Hard to predict, I know.)

If my local school boundary changes, is there a choice? It depends. In most cases, certain blocks along a perimeter will be re-assigned. Sometimes they will offer a phase-in reassignment for only the incoming new Kinders, then K-1 the following year, etc, until the phase-in is complete. Sometimes there will be a hard cut-off in the next year and all incoming new students of all grades will be impacted by the new boundaries. Younger siblings of existing students may also be impacted but will try to be accommodated on a space-available basis.

How do I know if my school boundary has changed? Check this LIST. If you’re not on the list, you are fine. If your school is on the list, click the link for more details.

The list is good for the upcoming school year. The new calendar year begins July 1st.

LAUSD Resident School Finder
The List of 2015-16 Boundary Changes

Further reading:
Enrolling My Child In School – What I Need To Know

For HELP with school placement:
That’s what I’m here for.
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