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A few months ago, when Andrew Dunkle and his wife moved to Southern California for work, one of their top priorities was finding a school for their son.

They researched several schools and districts and liked what they learned about Roosevelt Elementary School, so they found a residence in the area served by the Montana Avenue campus.

But when Dunkle showed up at the school’s first enrollment session Aug. 10, he was told that there were no empty slots and that his son might be placed at another school in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

The new Santa Monica resident, who relayed his story during public testimony at the Board of Education’s meeting Wednesday night, is one of several anxious parents across the district as school officials continue to analyze enrollment data and finalize class lists at the onset of the 2015-16 school year.

“I’ve talked to a number of families that are in limbo right now,” board member Ralph Mechur said.

The district began its enrollment projection process in the early spring, holding kindergarten round-up events, using data from consultant DecisionInsite and asking departing families to inform officials.

The situation remains fluid for the early portion of the school year.

“In the past, we have typically only had a handful of students who were placed at the next closest school with an opening, and these students were generally late enrollees,” SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said. “We understand the concerns of parents who are waiting to hear placement, but we do everything possible to hold out on placing a student in his or her resident school.”

Dunkle, however, criticized the district for its handling of the enrollment process, saying he was unable to get in touch with school officials prior to the sign-up session and that he would have looked for housing elsewhere if he had known his son wasn’t guaranteed a spot at Roosevelt.

“His point is well taken,” Supt. Sandra Lyon said, adding that kindergarten and transitional kindergarten parents at Tuesday’s welcome event at Lincoln Middle School expressed similar concerns. “I talked to a number of parents who are in the same boat. … We’re very sensitive to this. … It’s very frustrating, we understand that.”

Lyon said the enrollment issues are due in part to increased numbers in some grade levels and class-size reductions for which the district is striving as part of the Local Control Funding Formula, which gives SMMUSD more responsibility in handling state money.

According to Mark Kelly, assistant superintendent of human resources, site staffers pay close attention to last-minute changes in enrollment and make adjustments accordingly.

“As soon as a spot opens up at the home school, even it it’s a week into school, they will reach out and offer that person an opportunity to come back,” he said.

Kelly added that overflow has not led the district to place a Santa Monica student at a Malibu school.

“It’s uncomfortable not to know,” he said. “We’re looking at these numbers every single day and communicating with parents and families.”

Lyon said it’s possible that spaces could become available if children whose parents enrolled them don’t show up on the first few days. She and other officials said the district must do a better job of getting the word out about enrollment.

“We could be much clearer with people so they’re fully informed,” she said.

After board members weighed in on the issue, board president Laurie Lieberman said she hoped the brief discussion offered Dunkle some answers.

“I’ll find out,” he said.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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