Parents Want More Control Over School Funding Plan

Education UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Parents Still Jockeying for More Control Over 'Local Control Funding' Plan

Parents, staff and community members have been raising concerns over how school funds will be distributed since the state's Local Control Funding Formula began. Their main beef: transparency.

When San Diego Unified board members met earlier this month to recap their priorities for doling out state money to schools, called the Local Control Funding Formula, attendance and attitudes were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic.

The auditorium at the district’s University Heights headquarters was largely empty, with fewer than 50 attendees scattered throughout the room.

A couple attendees did speak, though. They weren’t happy.

Toby Schwartz, head counselor at Clairemont High School, said he has had difficulty hearing back from the school board on how counselors can provide input for the Local Control and Accountability Plan – a mandatory extension of the state’s new funding system  meant to ensure money is going where it’s intended.

“There is very specific money and stipulations attached to Local Control Funding when it comes to counseling, that includes input from stakeholders, and it’s not happening,” Schwartz said. “As recently as a couple weeks ago, I’ve asked what’s going on and was told there’s no plan, we’re winging it. It’s not acceptable. We’re reaching out, we’re not hearing back … we’d like to participate in the process.”

Schwartz’s statement characterized attitudes of many parents, staff and community members who have been raising concerns over how the funding will be distributed since implementation of the plan last year.

Their main beef: transparency.

Amy Redding, chair of the District Advisory Council, a parent-run group that works to hold the district accountable, hopes the updated plan will allow parents, teachers and community members to get a clearer picture of where funds are going when it’s announced on June 23.

“It’s difficult to see where those resources are landing or whether or not they are landing at all,” she said.

The thinking behind the plan is to shift money around to give more to districts with a higher concentration of students from low-income families, foster children and English-language learners. (For a more detailed description of how the funding breakdown works, check out Will Carless’ explainer here.)

Yet at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, some English-learner support teachers were cut after the plan was released and transferred into their own classrooms to function as regular teachers. Board member John Lee Evans alluded to how the district is now working to get all staff and teachers up to cultural proficiency speed in his comment at the May 6 workshop:

“Because we are focusing on equity in the entire budget … an example would be, there’s an allocation of teachers to each school, that’s a certain dollar amount, an equity issue might be we’re making sure all teachers are culturally proficient,” Evans said.

That means all teachers and staff in the district will be trained to support English learners on some level, though this training will act as a supplement, not a replacement for the ELSTs still in their positions after last year’s cuts. But with the loss of some of the specialized support teachers, English-learners won’t be receiving the same time and attention they did before. The district was down to a little over 40 support teachers for this year and anticipates having the same amount next year.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the state drew up funding targets for each school district in California. The targets were calculated with the intent of closing the achievement gap for historically underserved students. Each district is now receiving a percentage of the money over a projected period of eight years.

This year, around 29 percent of funds were put toward balancing the scales for schools with the greatest need. Music Watson, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Office of Education, said the state anticipates it will be able to edge that up to 32 percent in the 2015-2016 year, though the amount may be adjusted.

The money will go toward funding services, programs and staff to help disadvantaged students succeed, measuring success through several metrics, said Ron Rode, director of San Diego Unified’s office of research and development.

“Metrics such as dropout rates and graduation rates are considered,” Rode said. “The (accountability plan) takes metrics and accountability from previously disparate things and pulls them together for higher accountability.”

But those metrics aren’t set in stone.

“It is a living document. It’s possible we could decide that a particular metric doesn’t work and we need to change it,” Rode said. “It’s not just going to be willy-nilly though. We have set annual improvement objectives such as graduation rates and looked at how much we want to improve.”

Redding said the problem lies within that fluctuation in achievement metrics.

“In order to hold the district accountable for the expense of (Local Control Funding Formula) dollars we need to be able to gauge progress over the three-year plan,” Redding said. “If the way we measure a goal is constantly changing, then we can never tell if students made progress and if this was a worthwhile way to expend money.”

At the workshop, board members said that some of the improvements spurred by the accountability plan and the district’s own achievement standards can’t be quantified, but will be proven a success with a rise in things like graduation rates and reading level progress.

Sherry Schnell, a SDUSD parent whose children go to Kumeyaay Elementary, was frustrated with the district’s presented priorities.

“Our school site doesn’t have the resources that they need to provide basic things: We haven’t had money in our budget to buy textbooks for four years, probably longer,” Schnell said. “One counselor for one day a week for 470 kids. One library visit a week for 19 classes.”

Schnell said Kumeyaay Elementary receives less discretionary funding than other schools across the district. Her kids don’t fall into one of the three disadvantaged groups the allocations set out to serve.

“Clearly San Diego Unified is making (disadvantaged kids) a priority,” she said. “It would be wonderful if they could solve the problem of childhood poverty, but at the same time they shouldn’t be starving my child of an education.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Sherry Schnell.

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