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School funding reforms spark push to get parent input


Participants share ideas about San Diego Unified School District's Vision 20/20 strategic plan and the Local Control Funding Formula at Crawford High School.  Credit: Alex Gronke, EdSource Today

Participants share ideas about San Diego Unified School District’s Vision 20/20 strategic plan and the Local Control Funding Formula at Crawford High School.
Credit: Alex Gronke, EdSource Today

California’s new school funding law has sparked a major push to get input from parents, at least in most school districts being tracked by EdSource in diverse parts of the state.

Those districts have held – or plan to hold over the next few weeks – public forums that go significantly beyond what is prescribed in the law and its central feature, the Local Control Funding Formula.  The funding formula targets additional funds to districts based on the number of low-income students, English learners and foster children attending their schools.

California State PTA President Colleen You said her organization is “very encouraged” by what has occurred so far, although she said that across the state, efforts by school districts to engage parents has been “uneven.” “One of the keys will be to see what happens when districts start sharing the drafts of their accountability plans,” she said. “Until then it is speculative to know whether it will make a difference.”

Under the law, districts are required to draw up a Local Control and Accountability Plan by July 1. What is less clear is how the input districts are receiving will shape those plans and influence how districts decide to spend the extra money they will get.

“My hope is that the meetings are meaningful and that we are in fact embarking on a new era of parent and community participation in California,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy organization. “But the big question – and what will make the meetings meaningful – is whether a district’s budget process reflects what goes on in those meetings.”

EdSource Today is following the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula in six districts, which were chosen based on their geographic diversity, size and grade levels they serve.  All have large numbers of the “high-needs” students the law is intended to help. Together, the districts serve about 305,000 students, or about 5 percent of all public school students in the state.

The new law requires districts to get written parental input as they prepare their accountability plans, which must lay out how schools will improve student performance in numerous “priority areas” – from test scores and implementation of the Common Core standards to more abstract goals such as “school climate” and “student engagement” – as well as how they intend to spend state funds to achieve them.

The law specifically mandates that districts consult with parent advisory committees. Districts must also hold at least one public hearing to get input from parents, and hold another when their accountability plans are adopted.

While most of the districts being tracked by EdSource have held multiple public workshops and meetings, there is a considerable range in how many have been held and what districts have done to maximize participation. Some have provided child care and language translations, and offered meetings at different times  to better fit parents’ schedules. Some districts have concluded their information gathering process. Others are just starting to get public input.

The San Diego Unified School District, with over 130,000 students, is the state’s second-largest district after the Los Angeles Unified School District. San Diego Unified is hosting 16 “LCAP workshops” in March and April at different schools in each of the district’s 16 newly created “clusters,” which consist of a high school, and the middle and elementary schools feeding students into it. All meetings are scheduled to start at various times on weekday evenings – ranging from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

At the first workshop on March 10, a total of about 30 participants – consisting of district staff and parents – gathered at round tables  in the library of San Diego High School for a PowerPoint presentation and discussion of the accountability plan. In small groups, they looked at how the district’s Vision 20/20 strategic plan meshed with “priority areas” schools are expected to focus on under the new law. The proceedings were translated into Spanish using wireless headphones.

In addition to these meetings, district Superintendent Cindy Marten, a former principal who was the surprise choice to take over the district’s top post last July, has been hosting a series of public forums to introduce the district’s strategic plan, and to get input into the Local Control Funding Formula.

The Santa Ana Unified School District, with over 57,000 students, plans to hold  25 “parent and community input sessions” in March and the first three weeks of April. Superintendent Rick Miller said the district is intentionally hosting a large number of meetings because they offer more opportunities for parents to attend. It also means that each gathering has fewer attendees, and gives participants a better chance to be heard. “We wanted to keep the group size small so that people can actually talk,” said Miller, who came to Santa Ana last November after four years at the Riverside Unified School District in the top post there.

With an enrollment of about 54,000 students, the San Bernardino City Unified School District is also in the midst of holding “Local Control and Accountability Plan Meetings.” It held one in February and one in March, with another coming up next week.

The two-hour meetings are being held in the late afternoon. One of the meetings was held primarily in Spanish, and child care is being provided at each.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District, with just over 30,000 students, has held six community meetings – five in January and one in February – at different schools. Each meeting was held between 6:30  and 8 p.m.  Child care and Spanish translations were provided. Each one drew about 100 participants, according to school board member Madeline Kronenberg, who attended five of the six meetings.

The last of the meetings was held at Hercules High School between 6:30 and 8 p.m. on Feb. 6.  Superintendent Bruce Harter gave a PowerPoint presentation about the district’s financial status, and what it stands to gain under the Local Control Funding Formula (about $6.2 million this year).

Participants then broke into smaller groups and drew up a long list of priorities for the new funds (which can be found online on the district’s website). The dozens of proposals ranged from extending the school day and smaller class sizes to mentorship programs and having school psychologists based at schools.

The Merced City School District, an elementary district with just over 10,000 students, has held four meetings, titled “Budget Open Forum Workshops,” in February and March. The meetings, which were held at different schools on Wednesday afternoons between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., helped introduce parents to the new funding formula. The flyer advertising the workshops explained that they were “part of the district’s and board of education’s budget development transparency process.”

Each meeting drew between 50 and 100 participants, according to Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran. To communicate effectively with parents, many of whom are farm workers, translations were provided in both Spanish and Hmong.

Parga Duran said that after several years of community forums where budget cuts were the main topic of conversation, it has been a welcome departure to discuss with parents how additional funds coming to the district should be spent. “We aren’t talking about what to cut,” she said. “We are building, we are talking about what should we put back.”

Districts are using different approaches to attract as much parent input as possible. Santa Ana Unified, for example, is holding its meetings at different times of the day – 8:15 a.m., 9 a.m. or 6 p.m. –  to allow parents with different work schedules to attend. Two sessions will be held on Saturdays and are “open to all employees, parents and community members.” Child care will be provided. The district has also prepared informational materials in Spanish and Vietnamese.  The district is also encouraging online input through its “Eye on Learning” website page.

Some advocates believe school districts may need to do more to reach beyond those parents who have traditionally been involved in schools.

“It is great that all this is going on, but districts are going to have to work to implement the full intent of the law, so that it is not just a small number of folks on a required committee that are involved,”  said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an Oakland-based organization that has been a leading advocate of the new law. “A larger segment of the community must feel they were heard.”

That will not be easily accomplished, said Sharon Sadrudeen, who has two children in the San Bernardino school district.  She attended one parent meeting on the funding law, and this week she got a call from the district reminding her about the next one. “I was impressed,” she said. Although she thinks the district is doing a reasonably good job informing parents about the new law, she would like to see more  African-American parents like herself participating. “I am not seeing the involvement that should be there,” Sadrudeen said.

The only district among the six that EdSource is tracking that has not held meetings or forums specifically to address the Local Control and Funding Formula is the  24,000-student East Side Union High School District in San Jose.  But Superintendent Chris Funk points out that the district launched a major outreach effort during the 2012-13 school year, holding two dozen “community conversations” with parents and others, including at least one meeting at each of its 12 high schools.

That effort produced revisions of the district’s strategic plan that Funk says align well with the requirements of the new funding law. In January, the district also released a survey of school personnel, students and parents on what its budget priorities should be.

The district is notably one of the few in the state  with a draft of its Local Control and Accountability Plan. Funk has formally moved to implement what is explicitly spelled out in the law – getting the input of the districts’ parents, teachers and students. The draft plan was discussed this week at a joint meeting of the District Advisory Committee – consisting of a parent and a teacher from each school site council – and the District English Learner Advisory Committee.

Like East Side Unified, the next phase for other districts will be to involve their parent committees as they race towards the June 30 deadline to come up with their accountability plans. Education Trust-West’s Ramanathan hopes that at least some of the input that districts have received so far in parent and community forums will be reflected in their plans and the budgets they ultimately adopt. “Otherwise people will feel let down,” he said.

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: LCFF Tracker, Local Control Funding Formula, Reforms, School Finance

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16 Responses to “School funding reforms spark push to get parent input”

  1. Richard Moore said

    on March 21, 2014 at 11:53 am

    What a puzzle! What will come out of these discussion? Is there any precedent we can look to?

    Well, yes. A couple of decades ago every district was mandated to come up with a school report card. Districts tried out different forms and published the reports, then quickly discovered how little they actually had to report and how if they published online they would never have to print the documents and hand them out to parents. So the report cards got smaller and smaller and people went back to not knowing what was going on at school.

    Let us watch and see if history repeats itself.

    That new money? Oh, it went for salaries. Librarians? Nope we still don’t have any.

  2. Don said

    on March 21, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    As is typical with San Francisco Unified, community input is all about putting on a show of genuine interest and compliance and not at all about real feedback, engagement and collaboration. There’s limited information on The SFUSD website much unlike other large urban districts that have made great efforts to highlight and explain the new funding formula and the accountability plan as well as to offer clear opportunities for community participation. SFUSD has posted an LCAP timeline but there are neither dates, times or places nor has the district responded to my inquiries for the same.

    In my experience over a decade with this district we will likely see a small meeting during which time the Board members will catch up on emails while a few parents are paraded up to the microphone to make some lukewarm remarks about lack of funding.

  3. Kim said

    on March 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    My main concern now with LCFF funding is that there is no requirement to send the funds to sites for School Site Councils to oversee and, even if districts do send the funds to the sites, LCFF funding is all considered unrestricted and therefore not under the jurisdiction of SSCs. Which would seem to contradict the whole idea of “local control”. What could be more local than a group of stakeholders (teachers, other staff, parents and students) at a school making decisions on how to spend their funds to support English Learners, Low Income students and foster kids? Hopefully this oversight will be taken care of as the state makes modifications to the LCFF regulations.

    • Jerry Heverly replied

      on March 23, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      It’s wonderful to hear someone else voice my frustration with the evisceration of School Site Councils under LCFF. Our district is small (8,000 students) with one high school (2.500 students). Our high school Site Council budget has contained about $300,000 each year, mostly EIA money. Power over this budget has been mostly with the principal who is the only one with daily contact with the spending. A small proportion of the funds were open to the various departments. Each year a dept could request a few hundred dollars for things like art consumables, wood for the wood shop or occasionally some substitute time to allow a few teachers to attend a one or two day training. Parents exerted power within the SSC mostly by asking questions while the budget was developed. Why weren’t we spending money on improving math instruction since our algebra scores were so low–that would be the kind of question. Few students attended meetings faithfully so their role has been minimal.
      Our new superintendent has (gleefully, I think) revealed that our SSC budget will be significantly smaller next year. He says this was mandated by the state. So LCFF will result in a reduction of parent and teacher influence and an increase in district power. Seems sad to me and makes Jerry Brown look like a major hypocrite.

    • Don Krause replied

      on March 23, 2014 at 11:15 pm

      Kim, I understand your concern as stated, but I have a different take. The SSC Ed Codes, 52850-63, require establishment of SSCs at school that participate in “school-based coordinated categorical programs”, but the main purpose of those SSCs is to “develop and recommend” a school plan (SPSA). That still applies for what it’s worth.

      I know in LAUSD parents have had an active role in policy, but other districts like SFUSD have not met with the same qualified success. Such councils as DAC and DELAC are nonexistent. Even the SSC school plans, if they exist at all, rarely see the light of day after being filed away. They’ve always been little more than a compliance issue and when more they, and SSCs in general, serve mainly to create the appearance of stakeholder input in decision-making. That’s all. This is in my opinion reflective of the negative attitude of administration to the role of parent partners.

      As I see it, the ability of the SSC to forge a plan and be an affective voice is largely a function that dynamic in conjunction with the availability and quantity of the funding the LEAs allocate to the schools. When Brown chose not to have direct LCFF funding to schools and to leave the intra-district disbursement discretion to school boards, he chose middle management over local control. We parents know that, at least in large districts, what happens at any given school is quite removed from the general decision-making at the district level unless the boards act to make cross the board changes. So we are left with less say-so as both you and Jerry pointed out so thoughtfully pointed out.

      From a technical point of view, now that most categorical programs no longer exist I wonder how any SSCs have a legal mandate based upon the ones that do? And don’t forget that Title law under ESEA also requires parent involvement through SSCs. Those few programs aside, clearly the original intent of the SSC legislation has been radically altered with LCFF. My sense is that SSCs have been ignored for years in Sacramento and I suspect Jerry Brown did not fully understand that LCFF would be major blow to that parent engagement component in school site decision-making. But maybe I’m wrong and he knew full well. He is certainly behind the teachers unions and they don’t exercise their power at school sites but at the board and the legislative levels.

      • Don Krause replied

        on March 23, 2014 at 11:20 pm

        Correction to last paragraph above:

        From a technical point of view, now that most categorical programs no longer exist I wonder how ***Many SSCs..

      • navigio replied

        on March 24, 2014 at 5:56 am

        SSC’s still have federal categoricals to oversee. In addition, the SPSA is supposed to be much more than strictly a budget oversight document. It’s supposed to be about about school strategy, school safety, identifying educational needs and corrective actions, based on any number of measurement criteria, etc. The body is also a mechanism via which ELAC and AAPC (and others) can have an ‘official’ voice. But as you point out, that is all only in theory. Personally I doubt the gov knows what an SSC is. I have met principals who dont know what an SSC is. How would someone who works at a policy level far removed from districts, let alone school sites, really understand that? That goes for legislators too. They may know it as an acronym that fulfills a theoretical parent engagement role, but I’d bet few to none of them could explain why (effective) SSCs should be a good idea.

        • navigio replied

          on March 24, 2014 at 6:05 am

          btw, in our district, at one point principal evaluations were even designed to be aligned with the spsa, as the latter was supposed to outline specific and measurable goals, as well as provide an assessment of whether and how they were met. (think about that for a bit). in the end, it was never enforced.

  4. Don said

    on March 22, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Kim, funding LEAs and not schools is not an oversight. The Governor rejected the idea of direct school funding which would have bypassed the elected boards of districts. This doesn’t mean that school site councils won’t have some say so in the allocation of LCFF funding at schools. However, district management will decide how much each school gets despite the language of per pupil funding in the law. That is to say, there is no per pupil funding. The grants arrive on the basis on qualifying students and ADA, but the actual disbursement to schools is on the basis of what the boards decide. This is a constitutional problem for base grant funding like revenue limit before ought to be subject to Serrano and students should have equal opportunity as it applies to funding. If a district wants to hand over ever penny to some schools and starve out others (think SFUSD) it’s free to do so until a court says otherwise.

  5. Darleen said

    on March 22, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    There is a perception that parents and community have never been involved in developing plans advising on resources or assisting in developing policy. Parents have ALWAYS had the power, knowledge to inflict change, the problem is systems, infrastructure etc. did not allow parents to be considered equal. Los Angeles Unified School District parents, especially DELAC, DAC, CAC and some of your School Site Councils were power brokers for change, inclusive of DC and Sacramento, and now their voices have been minimized. Local Control Funding Formula is only a license for the local districts to supplant, with less parent voice as possible. Dont believe the hype because once you see what is happening…

  6. Don said

    on March 22, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Darleen, I’m not sure I follow. When you say parents have always had the power – can you be more specific? It seems to me that parents other community advocates have always been the lonely stepchild when it comes to any policy matters.

    What has substantively reduced community power on school site councils are reduced budgets. There’s little to no discretionary money in school budgets and SSCs have little to talk about as a result.

    • Darleen replied

      on March 23, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Don system and infrastructures have given the perception that parents did not have power to change. With first hand knowledge, I have seen parents demand and reform schools. The example of policies, LAUSD parent advisory committees create in 2006 a parent involvement policy, which the state like so much that changed how the compliance monitor would be done and the materials. Parents were vocal in the developing of ESEA. I could go on and on. The budget issue did not change the power of the parents and community, the law changed that under LCFF. There are pockets of success, but again infrastructures and other elements changed the game field for parents. Just look at the law for Parent Trigger, it does not say that a school has to go charter, it says parents can reform a school climate. Another problem is training, in your respective area how were your parents trained, how often,and who trained. The bottom line Don the parent component is nothing new, parents have made changes many years. The problem is it has not been successful across the board because there is the intent to fracture and divide.

      • navigio replied

        on April 4, 2014 at 6:32 am

        I think that’s both right and wrong. How I’d put it is that parents have always had the potential for power. They have rarely been able to wield it because either they did not realize they had that or they were not strong and unified enough. That said, it is crucial to note that districts can dilute and counter parent power fairly easily. That parents can sometimes be successful should not be used to justify that happening. Power is an ongoing struggle. Remember what Frederick Douglass said ..

  7. HML said

    on March 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    In my district, there were a series of Survey Monkey surveys posted to the website. They are five multiple choice questions long, with very generic questions and prescribed answers. There is no place for giving further input or feedback. The series of surveys were for parents, staff and students. Is this really all that will be needed to satisfy the stakeholder input requirement? I do know that they are working on their LCAP right now. Others with concerns or questions were encouraged to go express them to the school board during a regular meeting. Of course, there is that three minute speaking limit, as well as the fact the board cannot respond due to the agenda. One would then hope that the board would actually take comments into true regard. Unfortunately, with this board I fear it will just be maintaining the status quo, with the small amount of new money going to the district’s increasing healthcare costs. I don’t begrudge the employees this, but I do question what really will be different by any measure. It will be interesting to see how targeted population achievement is actually measured and what sort of accountability there will realistically even be for those results.

  8. Manuel said

    on April 3, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Thought I shared something I just came across in the way stakeholder participation in LCFF funding decisions will take place at LAUSD:

    “Just to be clear: the decision about how to use these funds does not require a vote of existing councils and/or committees, but there is an expectation that input has been sought.”

    Isn’t this wonderful? The powers-that-be are just engaged in a charade: as long as you ask, we are in compliance. Wonderful. I wonder how all those legislators that worked on LCFF and voted for it feel about how their great plans have worked out in practice.

    And people wonder why should there be teeth in the regulations produced by the SBoE?

    • navigio replied

      on April 4, 2014 at 6:00 am

      Granted, truly local groups no longer have to sign off on the methods, bit one thing that is different is districts now have to put in writing that they rejected a proposal. Maybe in another 25 years a we’ll make them state why as well.

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