After four years of watching his schools bleed students to Roseland, Santa Rosa City Schools, Bennett Valley and other districts, Bellevue School District Superintendent Tony Roehrick did something drastic.
He began telling incoming kindergarten families they couldn't leave the district, which has four schools teaching 1,700 students from south of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to west Santa Rosa near Elsie Allen High School.
"Unless parents have a really strong, legitimate reason for having students attend a different school at kindergarten, we are denying those," he said. "All we are asking is that you just consider us and not dismiss us out of hand."
Bellevue pulls from attendance boundaries in which 23 percent of youths under 18 are white and yet only 9 percent of the district's students are white. Nine out of 10 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
"The ones that tend to go to Bennett Valley and Rincon Valley for us tend to be white, more middle class, higher socioeconomic," he said. "I don't know if you call it white flight or what. It certainly is in our more affluent neighborhood where we are less represented by the kids who attend our schools."
Bellevue loses 40 percent of the students who live within its district boundaries every year. In 2009-10, 128 students left for Roseland, another 114 went to Bennett Valley and 109 went to Santa Rosa City Schools. An additional 293 went to 13 other districts.
"That is the loss of an elementary school," said Roehrick, superintendent for the past five years.
To stop the flight, district officials unveiled a dramatic change in policy for the current school year: blanket denial to all families seeking to attend kindergarten outside the district.
Parents could appeal, and some were successful. And the district has since tweaked the rule, allowing younger students to follow already-transferred older siblings, as well as permitting movement for work and day care needs, Roehrick said.
The policy cannot be enforced in Bellevue's grades first through sixth because the district is in federal sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law for failing to meet academic benchmarks.