Pacific Collegiate School's board of directors is drafting a proposal that would give Santa Cruz children preference over students from other parts of the county.

The move is designed to provide leverage for the acclaimed charter school in its upcoming facilities request to the Santa Cruz City Schools district.

The change would require an amendment to the nine-year-old school's charter, according to county schools Superintendent Michael Watkins, who said he is opposed to the plan. Watkins said he would advise the county Board of Education, the school's chartering agency, to vote against an amendment.

"I wouldn't be in favor of excluding other students throughout the county that would benefit from that program," Watkins said Thursday. Watkins said the plan, discussed by the PCS board Wednesday night, would keep Latino students from South County and elsewhere from participating in the school's highly anticipated annual lottery, an outcome PCS officials acknowledge. The school, whose student body is about 75 percent white and 5 percent Latino, has been criticized for failing to meet a requirement in its charter to reflect the ethnic diversity of students countywide, which is about half Latino.

The imbalance has led to charges of elitism against PCS. The school has won national recognition for its of high-performing students and advanced courses, but drawn local criticism for its low percentage of English-language learners and special education students compared to other Santa Cruz schools.

The PCS board said it would not alter its enrollment preference for the siblings of current students, as well as the children of teachers, staff and board members, even if they don't live within the district's boundaries.

Proposition 39 requires districts to provide facilities for the percentage of their students who attend charter schools, a law that is sparking legal battles statewide. Seventy percent of PCS' 435 students live within the district; district officials say the other 30 percent is the responsibility of PCS, which is loathe to spread its student body over multiple sites.

Ken Cole, who is leading the school's facilities committee, told fellow PCS trustees to prepare for a bruising Prop. 39 battle with the district, which declined to renew the charter school's lease of a district-owned site after the two sides failed to reach an agreement. Cole said he believes the policy change "could be a critical point of leverage" in arguing that the district should provide a single facility for PCS, whose lease expires in June 2009.

Cole said the board could vote on the policy shift as early as Oct. 1, and isn't deterred by Watkins' early disapproval. "PCS will engage him and that board in a discussion of their needs and our needs, and we're optimistic we might be able to turn that reaction around," Cole said.

Santa Cruz district Trustee John Collins said it's too early to say what impact the PCS proposal would be, though the plan would clearly drain the district of more per-pupil funding.

"What we all have to keep an eye on is what is best for the students who live in the district," he said.

Contact J.M. Brown at 429-2410 or jbrown@santacruzsentinel.com.