Sunday, May 17, 2009 | A windfall of stimulus dollars might seem like a godsend for San Diego Unified schools right now. But the way that the school district is soliciting plans for the new funds has set off a whirlwind of controversy, even as schools rush to bid for up to $17 million a year.
Parents charged with overseeing federal money complain that they were not included in the plans that were hastily drafted by schools last week. Teachers and their union say the superintendent has sidestepped them. The school district refused to share the draft plans with the media on Friday. And some of the brief plans hashed out by schools, obtained from other sources by voiceofsandiego.org, raise a barrage of new questions, from whether schools can mandate that teachers stay in one area to curb turnover to how lengthening the school year would work.
“This is not transparency,” said Francine Maxwell, whose children attend Lincoln and Morse high schools. “And I thought that was where we were headed — that anything dealing with the stimulus was going to be transparent. But the schools rationalized it as, ‘It had to be quick.'”
The rush for the money began two weeks ago when Superintendent Terry Grier met with each of the four “clusters” of schools that lead into Crawford, Hoover, Lincoln, and San Diego high schools, where test scores have sagged compared to other local schools. Principals and teachers from the clusters were asked to jointly devise a skeletal plan for creatively and smartly spending as much as $17 million annually in stimulus money over two years. Only one or two clusters would win the funds, Deputy Superintendent Chuck Morris said. And they had to craft the plan in a single week, turning in their plans by last Tuesday.
Morris said that schools had to hurry so that the plans could be brought to the school board before unrolling any major changes, such as changing the school calendar, which could take time to put together before next school year. The budget deadline is June 30. No final decisions have been made, the school board has yet to weigh in, and it is unclear when the final plans will be chosen.
But the rapid push for ideas has meant that while some schools were able to survey parents and get their input, many were limited to including principals and some teachers in the process so far.