One superintendent’s spending priority for new state funds: social workers
March 23, 2014 | By John Fensterwald | 2 Comments
One of the first school districts to finish a draft of the spending and accountability plan required by the state’s new school funding law is proposing to hire social workers to deal with the effects of troubled home lives, cyberbullying and other social and emotional issues hobbling students’ ability to concentrate and learn.
The 24,000-student East Side Union High School District in San Jose, the largest high school district in Northern California, wants to spend $1.25 million to place a full-time social worker at each of the district’s 11 comprehensive high schools next year, according to the proposed Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) that Superintendent Chris Funk released last week. An additional social worker would work at the district office to coordinate services for foster and homeless youths, who often switch schools during the school year.
The LCAP is a three-year planning document that spells
out how each district, charter school and county office of education will spend additional money provided by the Local Control Funding Formula. A district’s goals and expenditures must respond to eight priorities that the Legislature set for parent engagement, student achievement and school climate and conditions.
District and charter schools must adopt
an LCAP by July 1 as part of their budgets for next year. Because the state Board of Education didn’t approve th e template and regulations for the LCAP until January, many districts are scrambling to hold community meetings to determine what parents, teachers and students want in the plans before writing them. Superintendent Funk is hoping the school board approves the LCAP in mid-May, after a two-month review and comment period, so that the district can get an early start on hiring for the new positions.
Juan Cruz, assistant superintendent of instructional services, explained the priorities in the LCAP at a joint meeting last week of the District Advisory Committee – consisting of a parent and a teacher from each school site council – and a district committee of parents of English learners. Cruz also presented the full 12-page draft LCAP to the school board on Thursday.
If the school board approves the LCAP and the Santa Clara County Office of Education signs off on it, each high school will be assigned a teacher coach to work with staff on implementing the Common Core standards. Each school will also get
a new parent center with a full-time parent liaison.
The three additional positions at each school will consume about three-quarters of the $5.4 million in supplemental dollars the district estimates it will get next year under the Local Control Funding Formula. The formula adds 20 percent to the yearly base for every English learner, low-income child and foster youth. Those three target student groups make up 55 percent of students in the district, although they are concentrated heavily in about half of the schools.
The funding law and regulations that the State Board of Education adopted require districts to spend supplemental money proportionally on the needs of targeted students, although they can still spend it for new schoolwide programs and services in schools where high-needs students are less than a majority. But to do this, districts must justify the expenditure as “the most effective” way to achieve a goal for high-needs students.
Funk and Cruz said they had no qualms about distributing the supplemental money equally across all schools – at least this year, when the district is re-establishing core services following devastating budget cuts. They also see it as a way to provide services to high-needs students the district could not pay for with federal Title I money, which is only available to schools where those students make up at least 35 percent of enrollment.
“Now, we have an opportunity to provide services to those students that we could not provide in the past,“ Cruz said. Parent specialists and social workers will serve all students but will make high-needs students and their parents and guardians a priority, and the LCAP reflects that, he said.
Funk said he is convinced that the broad parent and community outreach that the district did in the 2012-13 school year has given him the information he needs to recommend how to spend the supplemental money. That
guidance provided the needs assessment that the state requires before writing an LCAP, he said.
The proposed positions reflect key objectives in the district strategic plan that the board adopted after 22 community meetings and discussions. Those objectives include providing high-quality instruction opportunities for every student to graduate ready for college or career, allocating resources to students with the greatest needs to ensure equity in results, and meeting parents’ needs while make it easier for parents to participate in schools and their children’s education. (The district also commissioned a budget priorities survey last fall that 2,300 students, parents and teachers filled out. While the response was impressive, the participants disproportionately were from high schools with higher-income families.)
“If you look at the LCAP and the strategic plan, they overlay each other almost perfectly,” Funk said. As a result, Funk and the district haven’t done much community engagement this school year in explaining the Local Control Funding Formula and the LCAP. In fact, the posting of the draft LCAP will be the first mention of the funding formula or LCAP on the district website.
Funk will rely on feedback from school site councils, on comments on the LCAP at a public hearing in April and on emailed responses to the draft accountability plan. By law, superintendents must respond in writing to public comments about the LCAP. Funk will also attend a forum organized by the district chapter of the student group Californians for Justice, and a meeting of Latino parents. He and Cruz have previewed the LCAP to African American and Asian parent groups.
Marisa Hanson, president of the East Side Teachers Union, said she’s been frustrated by the lack of discussion over specific ideas for using the new money. She said she first heard of the draft LCAP last week. Restoring staff time for librarians, now down to working one-quarter time at each school, should be a priority this year, she said. Asking teachers for their suggestions before presenting a formal plan was the missing step in the process, she said.”If you want to get us on board, you have to talk to us,” she told the district board.
LCAP’s big-bucks priorities
Under the plan, every school would get a social worker, who would join two counselors, some of whom had been designated to deal with students’ emotional crises. Cruz said hiring s
ocial workers reflects the district’s commitment to raise the graduation rate, lower the number of dropouts and help students focus on academic achievement while freeing up academic counselors’ time to work with students on college admissions.
“We know when students’ social and emotional needs are not met, they are less likely to come to school. They are more likely to find reasons to get suspended and act out,” Cruz said. “They’re not concentrating on school.”
At the school board meeting, teachers whose jobs would be affected, though not eliminated, expressed skepticism. Each social worker would displace a half-time coordinator of school services, who are either teachers or academic counselors who respond to students in crisis. They also coordinate schedules for community nonprofits that provide individual and group counseling, as well as anti-bullying and abuse prevention programs on campus.
Don’t jeopardize these relationships, which took years to build, said Joshua Greene, the services coordinator and an English teacher at Andrew Hill, a high school in a low-income, minority neighborhood that receives services from two dozen San Jose nonprofits. “It doesn’t make sense to create a huge learning curve for one social worker in a school with 2,100 students,” he said. “I have nothing against hiring social workers, but a cookie-cutter decision is not in the best interest of our school or students.”
Providing high-quality instruction to prepare students for college and careers was a main goal of the district’s strategic plan. Funk said hiring a consulting teacher, or instructional coach, in each school would help teachers make the transition to more challenging Common Core standards next year. “We’re not really ready for project-based learning, for authentic assessments” and the shift away from an emphasis on test prep for state standardized tests, Funk said.
Cruz acknowledged there might be objections from teachers who question a teacher coach’s expertise in areas that person hasn’t taught. “That’s why consulting teachers in all the schools will plan together and support each other,” he said. “We have to pick the right staff and train them how to be a great coach.”
Union president Hanson, in an interview, said she “was not sold yet” on hiring an instructional coach at every school. “I have a hard time seeing a math teacher helping an English teacher at high school.”
Welcoming place for parents
The LCAP includes a new parent center at each high school, which will be the first place a parent will go to get answers, set up appointments with teachers and find out about college requirements. It will be staffed by someone bilingual in either Vietnamese or Spanish.
The 20 or so parents at the joint meeting of the school site representatives and the District English Learner Advisory Committee, a half-dozen listening
to a Spanish translation, asked few questions. Afterward, several said they liked what they heard.
Maria Beaza, a Spanish teacher and a parent of a student at Evergreen Valley High School, said, “I love it that as a Latino parent, I will go right to my school to find out what a kid needs for graduation requirements, what test they need to take, who I have to talk to and when I can talk to a teacher or counselor,” she said. “Latino parents have two jobs. If the center is open from 8 to 3, they can go before or after work, whenever they have time.”
Parents don’t view schools as particularly welcoming, and feel they get bounced around when they try to get information, she said.
Funk said he wants to hear from school site councils before making a recommendation for the remaining $1.7 million in supplemental dollars. “We will go to the community to ask, ‘Are we moving in the right direction?’” he said. He will propose uses for the nearly $8 million in additional base funding under the formula later this spring. The combined $13 million in additional base and supplemental spending would raise the district’s $200 million budget by about 7 percent in 2014-15.
The reactions, especially from school site councils, will be critical. If parents, students and teachers at Andrew Hill agree with Greene that his work is vital or if they have other priorities for supplemental dollars, now is the time to make those views known.
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.
John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.