State and county education officials are seeking to reassure school districts that might be worried that county superintendents will reject the new accountability plans they’ll submit by July 1 for the 2014-15 year. Tighter scrutiny will come, just not for the initial plan.
“The approval process is fairly objective, at least this year” and should be non-judgmental, Christine Swenson, director of the state Department of Education’s Improvement and Accountability Division, told the State Board of Education last month.
School district officials are in the process of putting together their first Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs), which are required under the state’s new financing system. (County offices of education provide services for special-needs students, students in juvenile detention and students in alternative schools. Their LCAPs for those students will need approval from the Department of Education.)
Peter Birdsall, executive director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, backed up Swenson’s perspective.
“There is the expectation of a good-faith effort (by school districts),” he said. “This is the first year, so nobody should have a budget denied for lack of legal compliance.”
He said he expects the “overwhelming majority” of districts will have their LCAPs and budgets approved by Aug. 15, with perhaps a few given a conditional approval.
All school boards must pass an LCAP by July 1 detailing how they will spend dollars from the Local Control Funding Formula over the next three years. The LCAP must respond to eight academic and school-climate priorities that the Legislature listed in the new finance law. The LCAP should list measurable goals, backed by data.
Examples might be lowering the dropout rate by X percent or raising the reclassification rate of English learners by Y percent. The plan should specify how the district will achieve those objectives for all students as well as for low-income students, foster youths and English learners, who will get extra money under the formula. One section of the LCAP asks districts to describe what they did to solicit views of parents, students and others from the community and if or how they incorporated those suggestions.
The LCAP is intended to hold the district accountable for making progress. County superintendents, who must approve districts’ LCAPs, will determine if districts must take action to improve and whether to impose stronger sanctions if they are chronically failing to meet goals. But not this year, Swenson, Birdsall and others agreed.
The State Board is still 18 months away from adopting an evaluation rubric, which will provide the criteria for determining whether a district’s LCAP passes muster. And the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, the new agency that the funding law established to work with districts on areas of weakness, has yet to get going despite a $10 million appropriation to launch it. Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have yet to name appointees to the governing board.
Limited oversight this year
For the initial LCAP,
Swenson defined the county offices’ circumscribed role as verifying whether a district has met three criteria under the regulations that the State Board of Education adopted in January:
- Did the district adhere to the LCAP template, filling out all of the sections covering parent engagement, goals and actions?
- Does the district have sufficient revenue to meet the commitments it made in the plan?
- Does the LCAP meet the law’s “proportionality requirements” – laying out how the district will improve or expand services and programs for low-income children, foster youths and English learners proportional to the extra dollars that these students bring to the district?
Districts’ responses will vary. Some will set ambitious goals, others minimal. Some will concentrate new resources on a few priorities, such as hiring counselors or creating after-school or career-oriented programs. Others may allot bits of money for many purposes.
It’s not the county’s role this time to determine whether the district has chosen the right goals and the smartest use of resources, said Anne Campbell, San Mateo County superintendent of schools.
“As long as districts have done stakeholder engagement, addressed the eight state priorities, set reasonable goals and allocated resources, that’s what’s required this year,” she said. “When we get to next year and have some data to show on achieving goals, then we can say, ‘Are you making progress to your goals?’”
Campbell said that she’s also aware of “the really compressed timeline” facing districts. While some districts – Redwood City School District in particular – started holding parent and community meetings last fall, others waited until the State Board adopted regulations in January to start the LCAP process.
Rather than wait for districts to submit their LCAPs in June, Campbell said that the San Mateo County office has been in contact with the 23 districts in its jurisdiction. Her office has paired an administrator who works in school finance with one who works in programs and instruction – two divisions that in the past had little collaboration. As a team, they have met with superintendents and board members, she said, and they will review individual districts’ draft LCAPs well before they are submitted for approval.
“If districts have not been out to engage stakeholders, we will give suggestions,” Campbell said.
Birdsall said other county superintendents have been proactive as well. “We want an approved template, so we hope that when the LCAP arrives, there are no surprises,” he said. The counties will use a standard of “reasonableness,” he said. “If you are saying you have a counseling program for 8th and 9th grades for students performing below grade level, how many counselors will you need? We will ask where are resources?”
Quest for consistency
County oversight is nothing new for school districts. Since 1991, county offices have monitored districts’ budgets and finances to verify that they can meet their short- and long-term obligations. With the settlement of the Williams v. California lawsuit in 2000, county offices began monitoring low-performing districts’ facilities and student access to qualified teachers and textbooks.
Overseeing programmatic and academic goals is new, however, and those districts that have had tensions with county superintendents over budgets may be feeling nervous about the LCAP oversight, said Wes Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators.
He and Birdsall have met several times to discuss consistent standards for approving LCAPs. With 58 counties, there should not be 58 different expectations, Smith said. Birdsall said that his organization will release LCAP guidelines for county superintendents by the end of April.
Campbell said that her impression is that districts are working hard and taking the LCAP seriously.
But in testimony last month before the State Board, several civil rights advocates cited issues of concern. The quality of parent engagement among districts has varied substantially, students’ concerns weren’t being heard, and districts weren’t making enough achievement data available, they said.
Smith agreed that districts should be doing these things, but said they should not be punished for it if they aren’t up to speed this year. Next year, he said, they should have a plan reflecting those commitments and “be held accountable for engaging the community in meaningful ways.”
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.
You can follow other EdSource articles on how selected districts are implementing their Local Control and Accountability Plans through the Following the School Funding Formula project.