Palo Alto recreation officials say they're looking to expand city youth programs next summer to help compensate for the expected loss of non-academic summer school classes in Palo Alto.
The city offer comes as school district officials plan to scale back next summer's "enrichment" classes because of state legislation barring California school districts from charging summer-school fees. In the past, the district has supported its summer enrichment programs through fees and scholarships while offering academic "credit recovery" classes at no cost.
Rob de Geus, assistant director of Palo Alto's Community Services Department, said the city will expand an array of summer programs in sports, nature, art and recreation to accommodate families who otherwise might have signed their kids up for summer school enrichment classes such as cooking or web design.
The city programs will be fee-based, but low-income residents may qualify for 25 percent to 50 percent off, depending on their income. Any student enrolled in the Palo Alto Unified School District, including the 600 East Palo Alto students enrolled in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, are considered Palo Alto residents, he said.
"We're still talking with the school district about additional rooms at schools across the community," de Geus said. "Having additional space is definitely important for the city if we're going to increase capacity in our programs."
This past summer the city logged 5,648 enrollments in its summer camps and aquatics programs. It also hired 250 Palo Alto teens as camp counselors or junior counselors.
DeGeus said the city offered 145 "unique camps an programs that families can choose from," mentioning classes like advanced animation for kids, sports camps and something called robot and machine sculpture.
"I think we're going to be able to help," he said. "We'll have to see how this year goes and talk with families and if there remains a gap we'll rethink and build even more capacity for the following year."
Palo Alto Summer School Coordinator and Adult School Principal Kara Rosenberg said this week that the school district would reduce its enrollment next summer to focus its "resources to assist the students who are most in need of an academic program."
Next year's elementary summer school enrollment is pegged for 400, down from this year's 662. At the middle-school level, enrollment is projected for 150, down from 463. High school programming, which focuses on credit make-ups, summer "bridge" classes for at-risk students and the required, semester-long Living Skills class, will be similar to this year at 1,037 students.
The ban on summer-school fees follows a 2010 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenged fees for summer school, sports uniforms, field trips and other education-related items, saying they "blatantly violate the free school guarantee by requiring students to pay fees and purchase assigned materials for credit courses."
A California law passed last year ended that litigation. The new law, AB 1575 requires the California Department of Education, beginning in 2014-15, to provide guidance to school districts every three years on items it can charge fees for. It was introduced by then-Assemblyman, now state Senator Ricardo Lara of Los Angeles County.
An April 24 "fiscal management advisory" from the California Department of Education warned against "a tuition fee or charge as a condition of enrollment in any class or course of instruction, including a fee for attendance in a summer or vacation school, a registration fee, a fee for a catalog of courses, a fee for an examination in a subject, a late registration or program change fee, a fee for the issuance of a diploma or certificate or a charge for lodging."
The California Supreme Court said in 1984, "Access to public education is a right enjoyed by all not a commodity for sale. Educational opportunities must be provided to all students without regard to their families' ability or willingness to pay."