Hesperia students attending school in other public school districts are costing the Hesperia Unified School District almost a million dollars annually.


As of November 21, the HUSD is teaching 482 students from other Victor Valley school districts. At the same time, 641 students who in theory ought to be in HUSD schools are attending other public school districts. (These figures do not include students in the HUSD's sphere of influence who attend charter schools or private schools instead of a public school.)


The net loss of 159 students doesn't seem like a big deal in a school district with 21,000 students, except that 73 percent of the HUSD's $160 million annual budget comes from the state in the form of Average Daily Attendance payments based on the number of students attending school. California currently pays school districts $5,786 per average student attending school over the course of the school year.


So those 159 Hesperia students attending school in other districts are costing the HUSD $919,974, in a time when public school districts across California are facing the prospect of years of state budget deficits that will likely mean layoffs and the loss of programs.


"Some years we're a little ahead, some years we're a little behind. Typically, we about break even," said Tom Loomis, the HUSD's Director of Student Services. "In the past, our sister districts in the High Desert have been a little more open about [students] coming and going, and it benefits families."


But not always: In 2006, the Victor Valley Union High School District sought to curtail people leaving their district, citing the loss of $18 million over the course of three years, and the Snowline Joint Unified School District has sought to limit students transferring in.


California's education code allows school districts to crack down on transfers if the loss of revenue becomes too substantial, but the law errs on the side of parents.


Only nine of the 159 HUSD students' transfers could have legally been challenged, according to school board president Robert Kirk.


"The other part of it is that we get reciprocal agreements," Kirk said. That ensures that people who live in our district but maybe work in Apple Valley can take their kids over."


"We've got quite the commuter society up here and some folks feel like, based on the logistics, they'd like to have their kids in a high school that's a little closer to the freeway access," Loomis said, or families want to keep their kids attending school with previous classmates.


But this year, the HUSD is staring down the barrel of a gun, with an estimated $2 million in mid-year budget cuts coming in the new year, thanks to the ongoing state budget crisis -- predicted to come to $28 billion over the next 18 months.


"Where we go in this, I'm not sure. Certainly, we're in this budget crunch time, we're looking at all angles," Loomis said.


But HUSD officials have no plans to crack down on inter-district transfers at this time.


"As much as possible, we try to support families in what they feel they need to do," Loomis said.


"Sometimes it's up, sometimes it's down," Kirk said. "But parent choice is a good thing."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.