Proposing a fundamental change in the way the California Department of Education operates, a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office Thursday suggested the department move beyond its current focus on federal compliance, an emphasis it said school districts find “increasingly reactive and punitive.”
Instead, the 28-page report proposed that the department encourage collaboration among its staff members, particularly those who are overseeing federally funded programs for students with disabilities, English learners and low-income students. The goal would be to make oversight activities more valuable for school districts, the report said.
As an example, the report noted that education departments in other states have merged staff responsibilities to include not just an evaluation of whether federal funds are being spent in ways that are permissible, but whether districts are spending funds in ways that are effective, the report said.
“Such an approach would represent a paradigm shift for CDE and would require more coordination across – or a reorganization of – CDE divisions,” the report said.
Richard Zeiger, chief deputy superintendent of public instruction, praised the report as “thoughtful.”
“What the report is urging us to do, and I don’t think we disagree with them, is where we can find opportunities to have more supportive models of compliance, we should,” Zeiger said.
Yet, he noted, when department staff members visit schools, districts like to know “are you the compliance person or the helper person?”
Special education is an area where the state already is examining better ways to deliver services, he said.
Vicki Barber, co-executive director of the Statewide Special Education Task Force, said the task force had received numerous comments from the public that, like the LAO report, suggested increasing collaboration and coordination among California Department of Education staff members. The task force will be releasing its recommendations in a final report in late fall.
While the report suggested that the department “explore ways to add value” to its federally required compliance activities, it also stated that county offices of education continue to be better sources for on-the-ground support for school districts, including professional development and technical assistance.
In other findings, the report said staffing at the department is reasonable given its current responsibilities, but new assignments would require additional staffing.
In a recommendation that was warmly received at the department, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reviewed 77 reports that the Legislature requires the department to create and suggested the repeal of 54 of those reporting requirements. Those 54 reports are “no longer pertinent, do not provide sufficient information to merit their costs” or the information is already available or available upon request, the report said.
The report was the first from the non-partisan office, which analyzes finance and policy for the Legislature, about the department, which has about 1,500 employees and an annual budget of around $250 million.