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Once a Confusing Issue, Dispute Over School Boundaries Abates After Officials Weigh In

A recent informational meeting helped parents learn why San Bruno kids might attend school in South San Francisco—and what they can do about it.

A resident of San Bruno’s subdivision once examined a tax bill and realized the taxes she paid in San Bruno were going to South San Francisco schools. That revelation kicked off an investigation into decades of local history to ascertain where the city and school district boundaries lay.

Today, schools chiefs agree that kids who live in the Merimont development are expected to attend school in South San Francisco—that is, unless their parents secure an inter-district transfer. Or if a successful campaign is mounted to redraw the boundaries.

“There is no issue,” concluded superintendent Dr. David Hutt. “It is very clearly defined. We had to go back 40, 45 years to find that out.”

An estimated 60 parents turned out for a  informational meeting in January to learn more about how district boundaries are drawn in general—and how this one, in particular, was drawn.

Many were surprised to learn that city boundaries often do not coincide with school district boundaries. A confluence like San Francisco—at once a city, county and single school district—is rare, said Peter Burchyns, special advisor to the county board and superintendent, who led the January meeting.

“There is a lot of confusion about this issue,” he said. “This is a fairly common phenomenon throughout the state. In San Mateo County alone, we have 20 cities and 23 school districts.”

Not a foundation had been poured in Summerhill Homes' Merimont development back in 1977 when San Bruno bought a 10-acre parcel in unincorporated San Mateo County and built the Carl Sandburg Elementary School on it. Since that time, South San Francisco annexed the area, and the parcel, though still in San Bruno, became part of the South San Francisco Unified School District. In 2005, the San Bruno school district sold the Carl Sandberg school building for $30 million.

“These people bought their property thinking they were going to be going to the San Bruno schools, but they’re not, and they’re kind of ticked off about it,” said San Bruno Park trustee Skip Henderson.

“There did get to be a little bit of ill will,” said fellow trustee Kevin Martinez. An attempt to have the board of supervisors approve a boundary change went nowhere, he said.

Ryan Sebers, supervisor of student attendance and welfare for the South San Francisco Unified School District, said the San Bruno Park School District was there before the area was anything else, and the planning didn't take into consideration any more future development.

“As the areas grew and developed, people said, ‘We’re going to need a school,’ and plopped one down there without checking,” Sebers said.

A wave of inter-district transfer requests followed the revelation that Merimont residents are assigned to South San Francisco. Since that time, district officials contacted the Merimont development sales office, instructing them not to tell homebuyers their children would attend San Bruno Park schools.

“There’s been this whole educate-the-community thing,” Sebers said. “Now, we see one or two, but it’s not like when they were first selling those homes.”

A student may live in San Bruno and also be assigned to Elementary School in Millbrae, Elementary School, Middle School or .

To change a student’s school assignment, a parent must apply first for a release from the student’s school of assignment, and secondly to be admitted into the desired school. If the request is rejected, the parent can appeal to the county office. Children who attend San Bruno schools on an inter-district transfer must apply for one again when they reach high school, Sebers said.

“The county sounds like it wants to be very flexible,” he added.

At the January meeting, Burchyns explained to parents how they can appeal to move the school district boundaries. But, to date, no one has petititioned to do so, he said.

Maria Pia March 26, 2011 at 04:33 PM
FINALLY in approx 2001 after many years (over 35) of petitions and the perseverance of the homeowners (parents, grandparents & now great grandparents) of Pacific Heights, Portola Highlands & Spyglass neighborhoods, ANNEXATION from Laguna Salada /Pacifica Elementary & Jefferson Union High districts was granted. YES - we had been paying a higher parcel tax towards those districts than Pacifica homeowners...why?? because Pacifica was (maybe still is) considered a "LOW WEALTH" district. Go figure. Regarding Merimont ~ was the school district info not disclosed to home buyers by the developers. I would think that after our annexation mess the City of San Bruno and the school district would make sure that this would be done for all future developments and potential home buyers. Realtors need to update their data as well.
M Z March 26, 2011 at 09:15 PM
I purchased a home (2000) in the Pacific Heights neighborhood based on my kids going to the Laguna Salada/ Pacifica Elementary School district and was not told that this would change in the disclosure forms. I am personally thrilled with Portola Elementary but not so with the educational placements after Portola. We knew that we would have to travel down the hill for middle / high and we liked the school choices available on the coast. We picked this neighborhood because we felt that we had the best of both. We were close to the major traffic arteries, Sweeney Ridge (we love to hike/walk), and close to the coast. I love the fact that there is a Mollie Stones in San Bruno with a Mollieland. We have a great grocery store in Lunardis - Lori (sp) is the best. The city of San Bruno is finally offering more classes for kids. Until a couple of years ago, we had to go to city of Pacifica to get the variety of children classes we wanted. When you petition for something different than what you already have, you have to be careful for what you wish for. The neighborhood ended up with a top notched elementary school that was saved from closing but the neighborhood also lost some options in the form of middle schools. The City of San Bruno has only one and the City of Pacifica has 1 middle plus 3 K-8 schools.

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