California’s school funding reform laws have triggered a burst of outreach efforts to solicit parent and community input — along with a plethora of suggestions from parents and community representatives about how to spend the additional funds districts will receive. But what is not clear is how these multiple recommendations 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 over the next several months.

California’s new school funding reform law just says that parent groups and other key stakeholders have input into the draft accountability plan — but is silent on how they will provide such input. That is in the spirit of the new law, which is intended to allow districts to make more of their own decisions, rather than Sacramento telling them how to do it.

But it is possible that districts may have generated so much input that it will not be focused enough to provide specific guidance to districts as they come up with their accountability plans, which much be completed by the end of June.

For example, the Natomas Unified School District near Sacramento has generated over 3,000 suggestions from more than 1000 people gleaned from an aggressive effort to get community input. They 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,”  “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 wifi,” “more AP options,” “SAT preparation,” “community service programs,” “more training of ALL staff, including classified employees,” and “more arts programs.”

The six community meetings held in January and February by the West Contra Costa County Unified School District has similarly generated hundreds of recommendations, all written down on flipcharts but not summarized or collated in any organized form. Here is a small sample of the ideas generated at the meetings:  more counselors;  tablets for every child; all-day kindergarten;  more tutoring days; earlier exposure to technology in K-5 grades; more academic support for English learners; yoga and meditation; mindfulness/peer support programs; more bilingual staff; school nurses; and smaller class sizes.

Similarly, San Diego Unified has sponsored five meetings to review its Vision 20/20 strategic plan, and is currently in the process of holding 16 smaller meetings.  Lisa Berlanga,  president of San Diego United Parents for Education, attended a meeting at Patrick Henry High School on March 20 — 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.

In the districts being tracked by EdSource, the locus of activity has already shifted, or is shifting, from these community meetings to the smaller meetings of the District Parent Advisory Committees and the District English Learner Advisory Committees, or in the case of two districts, new committees created specifically to provide input into the LCAP process.

What seems clear is that these committees will be pivotal in providing far more specific input than the more generalized community forums are likely to. However, based on the wide range of needs identified so far, even for these committees it will be challenging to agree on a handful of recommendations that districts could readily incorporate into their accountability plans.  But that is the task that they will be facing over the next few weeks and months.




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