Districts face challenge of prioritizing public input on school spending

California’s school funding reform law has triggered a burst of outreach efforts to solicit parent and community input in at least some districts – along with a plethora of suggestions about how to spend the additional education funds they will receive from the state.

But what is not clear is how these multiple recommendations – in some districts running into the thousands – will be prioritized so that they will be useful to school officials and school boards as they draw up their Local Control and Accountability Plans before the rapidly approaching deadline of July 1.

The funding law championed by Governor Jerry Brown that went into effect last summer requires parents and other key stakeholders, such as school personnel and community representatives, to provide input into the draft accountability plan. But the law is most silent on how they should provide that input. That is in line with the spirit of the new law, which is intended to shift the locus of decision-making from Sacramento to individual districts.

But some parent advocates worry that districts may have generated so much input it may not be focused enough to provide guidance to school boards and superintendents as they come up with their accountability plans.

San Diego Unified, for example, has sponsored five meetings to review its Vision 20/20 strategic plan, and is currently in the process of holding 16 smaller meetings to discuss the district’s LCAP. Lisa Berlanga, president of San Diego United Parents for Education, attended a meeting on March 20 at Patrick Henry High School  – the same school where her son is enrolled.  Berlanga said that all of the information collected by the district will pose a challenge for the people who end up crafting the LCAP.

Parents are concerned about how they are going to meaningfully use all this data,”  she said.

Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education and one of the architects of the new law, does not share those concerns.

“People are going to have to get used to a new system, and a new way of setting priorities,” he said. “I think most people realize that they are not going to get everything they want, and you can’t do it all in a year.”

He said that this is how the budget process is supposed to happen – get input from key stakeholders, then forward it to elected school boards to review what they have received and make decisions after they have done so. “The key thing is that there is an endgame here,” Kirst said. “It is the annual budget. It forces you to state your priorities.”

The Natomas Unified School District near Sacramento has generated over 3,000 suggestions from more than 1,000 people, gleaned from an aggressive effort to get community input. The suggestions are all listed on the district’s website in a file spanning 127 pages. The list is compiled from surveys of parents and teachers, community meetings, student gatherings, and a range of other sources.

The suggestions have been divided into categories such as “academic support,” “school climate and emotional support,” “college and career and student success,” “high quality staff,” and “English learners.” They include a range of ideas and suggestions, such as “better lunches,” “better Wi-fi,” and “more AP options.”

The six community meetings held in January and February in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District have similarly generated hundreds of recommendations, all written down on flip charts at the meetings, but not summarized on the district’s website. The recommendations run the gamut from tablets for every child and mindfulness/peer support programs to  all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes.

The 100-plus community forums held by the Los Angeles Unified School District or community partners, along with online surveys, have spawned more than 10,000 recommendations. In its draft accountability plan released last week, the district says these have yielded budget priorities such as increased employee salaries, expanding adult education and summer schools, reducing class sizes, and increasing the number of counselors and librarians in schools, along with funding for the arts.

District officials are taking different approaches to synthesizing the materials. San Diego, for example, is working with a doctoral student from San Diego State University to compile public comments and identify themes and priorities that emerged during the district’s public meetings.

The Santa Ana Unified School District is relying on WestEd, a San Francisco-based policy and research organization, to synthesize community members’ concerns garnered at each meeting.

Following the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s final LCAP meeting on April 23, Linda Bardere, the district’s director of communications, said the school system will form a writing committee to review the public input recorded during their meetings and start developing a draft of its accountability plan.

Paul Richman, executive director of the California State PTA, said one way for parents to prioritize their input is to tie recommendations to one of the eight “priority areas” stipulated by the new funding law, including indicators of student achievement, implementation of the Common Core state standards, school climate, and  levels of parent and student engagement.

In general, Richman said, the more input a school district can get the better. “It is very positive that we are seeing districts getting overwhelming feedback, because it shows that parents want to have a voice, and want to be involved in  decision making,” he said.  “But it is a whole new process and we are all going to have to learn together about how to make this work.”

In the coming months, the decision making process will shift to parent and district advisory committees that the law specifies must give input into a district’s draft Local Control and Accountability Plan before it can be adopted. These committees will have the chance to give more specific input than the more general community forums have typically done so far.  However, it will be challenging even for these committees to agree on a manageable set of recommendations that districts could then incorporate into their accountability plans.

Kirst noted that even though districts may be overwhelmed by a flood of recommendations, “not everything has to be done in 2014.”  “This can be done over time,” he said. “The board and the superintendent are in the hot seat. You approve some (recommendations), you turn some down.  This is what boards are all about.”

Karla Scoon Reid and Alex Gronke contributed to this story.

This report is part of EdSource’s Following the School Funding Formula project, tracking the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula in selected school districts around the state.



Filed under: Local Control Funding Formula, Parent Involvement, Reforms

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5 Responses to “Districts face challenge of prioritizing public input on school spending”

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  1. Don on Apr 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm04/17/2014 1:22 pm

    • 000

    After many years experience with using the uniform compliant procedure (UCP)to get action on noncompliance with parent engagement law, and especially as it concerns school site councils, the one thing I’ve learned is that a complainant must clearly establish what part of the law is being violated in order to get backup from the CDE. The idea that anyone would get action because the “spirit” of the law is being broken wouldn’t get them the time of day in the context of the UCP. The abundant spirit, but minimal legal requirements of LCFF’s LCAP engagement process isn’t by accident. It equates to low opportunity for CDE intervention should a district not live up to the spirit that is implicit but not explicit in the law.

    Had the Governor and the legislature genuinely wanted to bring decision-making closer to the classroom they could have strengthened the established role of school site councils as a mechanism of grassroots participation and required school by school LCAPs – a consideration that was passed over. Instead they substituted state with district bureaucratic oversight, neither of which are close to the classroom, particularly in large school districts, and weakened compliance to the point where complainants have very little opportunity for recourse when they don’t get the participation the law supposedly intends.

    When districts fail to do the right by the community that is when backup by the UCP process is most needed. And under LCFF there’s much less opportunity for that backup. That’s a step backward not forward. Many of the actors on the stage understand the benefits of collaboration between administrators, teachers, students and parents, but what happens when districts only pay lip service to the community? Under LCFF, not much.

  2. Tressy Capps on Apr 17, 2014 at 8:20 am04/17/2014 8:20 am

    • 000

    I worry this a case of all talk, no real action. Some districts will authentically engage parents in the true spirit of this law and others will simply give it lip service. Look at what they are doing, not what they are saying.

  3. Sonja Luchini on Apr 16, 2014 at 7:19 am04/16/2014 7:19 am

    • 000

    The problem with LCFF is that it requires the district to set up a plan without real parent involvement. It asks for “feedback” only which basically ends up meaning nothing, especially in LAUSD where Supt. Deasy has gone out of his way to dismantle the District Title I committee when we need it the most. Many districts are leaving out any consideration of students with disabilities because it’s not “required” or in the legal language. While over 80% of LAUSD’s children with disabilities also fall under the Title I category, there is little to no guidance on this. When I asked that special education parents be included in our PAC, I was told in a public meeting that it was “a good idea”, but by the time the PAC formation was finally determined, those parents were not included.

    We’ve already had “shaky” local elections for PAC members. Oversight failed to realize they allowed a person to be elected who would have their child graduating this May. The 3-year commitment should’ve gone to a parent whose child/ren would be involved with district schools. When District personnel were asked about this error after the election, they turned pale and had no idea how to correct it.

    No one knows, really how to incorporate this, much less include the public input. The funding is temporary and schools need to have a more realistic, responsible revenue stream provided by legislators three years down the line…and I doubt that will happen any time soon with our current cast of characters.


    • Don on Apr 16, 2014 at 9:18 am04/16/2014 9:18 am

      • 000

      Thank you, Sonja. Here in San Francisco the PAC, charged along with the DELAC to present community input by the LCFF law, is appointed by the BOE. The members are inevitably people who have been vetted by the board and the district and critics are verboten.

      There is a spirit of collaboration in the new law, but no teeth to it when collaboration is insufficient. In practical terms that means a district doesn’t have to do anything except the minimum, which is have the PAC and DELAC present findings. As long as the two committees report to the Board and there’s an opportunity for public comment there’s no violation the law even if nothing is reported and there’s no public comment. If the law required districts to present a draft plan to the public by a certain date, solicitation and integration of the parent input subsequent to that and a formalized LCAP to follow, the public would have a clear indication of the effects of the input on the initial draft.

      On the phone with the head of SFUSD’s parent engagement office, I was told that SFUSD “was doing far more than it had to”. This person, the former chair of the PAC, is now a district employee. And what has SFUSD done that is far more than required? Well, until last Saturday morning it hadn’t held a single publicized community meeting, only a couple of small focus groups. Nevertheless, she’s correct.

      We’ve had reports from ED Source of districts going above and beyond. and it’s heartening to see district leaders who want to reach out to the primary stakeholder families. Not all districts will achieve the level of collaboration that is the spirit of the law and some will avoid it altogether while still complying with the letter of the law.

      That is to say, when Sacramento pushed accountability down to the districts it washed its hands of oversight and monitoring. In short, the CDE and its California Collaborative for Educational Excellence will not be intervening when collaboration amounts down to a big zero.

    • Manuel on Apr 16, 2014 at 10:08 pm04/16/2014 10:08 pm

      • 000

      Ah, yes, Sonja, there is no inclusion for advocates of Special Ed students in the PAC because “it’s not in the Ed Code” an, as you know, how the LCFF “extra” money is to be spent does not consider Special Ed students in the unduplicated count.

      However, LAUSD’s Superintendent (or, more accurately, his Chief “Strategy’ Officer) has decided to spend $472.11 million of the $837 million he claims he is obligated to spend of the more than $1 billion LAUSD is getting under the Supplemental and Concentration grants. No, I am not making these numbers up. They are explicitly stated in the LCFF budget he presented to the Board on April 8 (the total LCFF extra grants is elsewhere).

      Given that LAUSD reports that roughly 50,410 Special Ed kids are in the “unduplicated” count (437,206 according to them too), is it fair that more than half of the S&C grants goes to pay for one third of the cost of their services? As a friend put it to me, this kind of action “sows division among parents who should be allies.” And I agree: this reeks of “divide and conquer.”

      What do you think?

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