Rancho Santa Fe teachers ask for their children to attend Rowe

RSF School
RSF School District teachers would like their children to be allowed to attend R. Roger Rowe.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association is hoping that the Rancho Santa Fe School District board will reinstate its board policy of allowing teachers’ children to attend the school if they live outside of the district.

The request, placed on the board’s Aug. 12 agenda, re-ignited a debate that has come up numerous times over the years. The policy was amended in 2016, limiting the enrollment to only teachers’ children previously enrolled and their siblings.

One of the teachers who has benefitted from the policy is Jennifer Olson, whose three children have been able to attend the school.

“This is my home away from home,” Olson said. “It is my home away from home because my babies are here and I’m truly invested in this place.

“I know there are pros and cons and I know that it could be costly...I just hope that with this new board this would be something that you would really consider. It would mean a lot to the teachers.”

The majority of the four board members present were not in favor of reinstating the policy at this time.

“I do realize that it would be a benefit to our teachers. I don’t believe that reinstating the policy would be in the best interest of our school district,” said board President Kali Kim. “It would be hard for this to be successful in a small, one-school district. As a board, we have to think about the potential impact of additional students on upholding our current class size policy of 20:1.”

As a basic aid district, Kim said they would not receive funding to educate students from out of the district and it could put a strain on the foundation to raise funds to support additional students. With the hard cap on class sizes of 20:1, she said there would also be the budget impactions of adding additional teachers.

Trustee Rosemarie Rohatgi said she supported the policy and asked that it be studied further to better understand how many potential students they are talking about.

“I would just like to give this to the teachers. If I was a teacher, I would want my kids to go here, I would be proud for my kids to be here,” Rohatgi said. “I kind of feel like this is something that we should be offering to our employees.”

With trustee Annette Ross not present, the vote to continue studying the change was split 2-2. Trustee John Tree, who did not support the policy but would support Rohatgi’s idea of studying it further, said he would request that the item be placed on a future agenda when a full board could make a decision.

Neighboring school districts like Solana Beach, Del Mar, Cardiff, Poway and San Marcos all have policies that allow teachers’ children to attend their schools. In Rancho Santa Fe’s Board Policy 4111, previously up to 15 teachers’ children were allowed to be enrolled at Rowe.

“This policy has some history, and, unfortunately, some baggage,” said teacher Steve Rossier, who is entering his 27th year at Rowe. “We are not interested in dwelling in the past with this and look forward to what we can do now to reboot this policy because it would be a benefit to everyone in our school community.”

The policy had a sunset clause which essentially ended it every three years unless a contract agreement was made—Rossier said it was used as leverage against the teachers in negotiations and eventually the conflict and tension over the policy was resolved by its termination in 2016.

At the time, there were seven teachers who had 10 children at the school. Rossier said the most teachers’ children they ever had enrolled at the school was 11.

With their current request to reinstate the policy, the RSFFA is asking to change the maximum number of kids allowed to be expanded from 15 to 20 and to eliminate the policy’s sunset clause.

Rossier said allowing the children of teachers to attend Rowe will help the district attract and retain qualified candidates.

As it stands now, many teachers with kids need to leave as soon as they can because of childcare and to be involved in their kids’ activities at their home schools. Rossier said if teachers’ kids are able to attend school at Rowe they would be involved in the school’s extra-curricular activities and program—Rossier, personally was able to serve as the school’s athletic director when his son was at the school.

Teacher Mandy Valentine said she was fortunate to be able to have her child attend Rowe as part of the old policy and the best part of it was really the sense of family it created.

“When our kids get to go to school here, our family bond gets transcended into the community,” Valentine said, noting she has attended student birthday parties and had students at her home for playdates. “Teachers invest so much more of their personal life when their children are on campus with them.”

The board members acknowledged that when they first came to the district as parents, they all supported having teachers’ children at school as it seemed to be a “no brainer”. However, in joining the board and gaining a better understanding of district finances and the budgetary impact, their opinions shifted.

“Where it became problematic for me and, unfortunately, I can’t support it even though I want to…is the dollars and cents,” said Tree. “We’re such a small school district… the percent of kids from teachers would just be an overwhelmingly big number versus if we were a large school district, it would be a very tiny percent.

“My heart screams to want to do it…but I don’t know how to afford it.”

In her comments, Kim said as enrollment is unpredictable, she could not commit the current board or future boards to accommodate the policy by expanding class sizes, hiring additional teachers or having to make a difficult decision if there were over 20 teachers’ kids in a school year.

If the board brings the topic back for discussion at a future meeting, Rossier said they could conduct a teacher survey to find out how many students would be involved.