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SAN DIEGO – This week marks the end of the San Diego Unified School District’s initial public outreach efforts that will help determine how it spends state dollars under California’s new school funding law.

Parent Laura Caffo places Post-it notes with funding suggestion on posters at a meeting at Correia Middle School in San Diego. Credit: Karla Scoon Reid

Parent Laura Caffo places Post-it notes with funding suggestion on posters at a meeting at Correia Middle School in San Diego. Credit: Karla Scoon Reid

But low parent turnout at this recent Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) meeting in San Diego underscores the challenges that California school systems face as they attempt to meet the state’s requirement to seek community input to help draft their accountability plans.

Of the 21 people who attended an LCAP public workshop at Correia Middle School in San Diego Monday afternoon, roughly a third were parents. The other participants in the two-hour meeting were teachers and other district staff, whom districts are also required to engage in the planning process as they draw up their accountability plans.

Together, they engaged in a thoughtful and honest discussion about students’ and schools’ needs as they sat around tables in the school’s library.

While the San Diego schools will have held a total of 21 community meetings to discuss the district’s funding priorities, some worry whether those meetings have reached one of their chief intended targets – parents of the district’s 130,000 students.

Moises Aguirre, executive director of external district relations for San Diego schools, said more than 500 people attended the first round of district-led meetings that addressed the LCAP and 20 to 40 attended each of its 15 cluster-based meetings held so far in March and April. Clusters are a collection of schools that feed into a high school. Correia Middle School is part of the Point Loma Cluster Schools Foundation, which represents nine schools. (A final cluster meeting will be held April 10, bringing the total of those meetings to 16.)

Suzy Reid, a parent of two elementary school students who attended the meeting, said the number of meetings hosted by the district is commendable. But she said administrators faltered on encouraging more parents to participate in the budget process. Reid said cluster group leaders, who are generally a parent and a school-based administrator, were left to publicize the LCAP workshops.

In fact, there were few new faces at the meeting at Correia Middle School, according to the parents who attend the regularly scheduled monthly cluster schools meetings. The district coordinated the LCAP meetings to be held during the cluster meetings. At least four of the parent participants are members of the Point Loma Cluster Schools Foundation Board. Members of the board, who are elected or appointed, include principals and teachers.

As the meeting participants used Sharpies to write their new funding priorities, or “wants,” and programs that should be kept, or “likes,” on brightly colored Post-it notes, discussions struck a familiar tone. Talk about class size reduction uniformly garnered praise, as did increased time for professional development for teachers.

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.

Her hands filled with purple and yellow Post-it notes, Glenda Gerde, principal of Loma Portal Elementary School, praised the workshop process as a valuable way for parents and educators to share their concerns and discuss ideas that get them all on the “same playing field.”

Still, Shelli Kurth, a parent of two children in the district and a co-founder of the San Diego-based advocacy group United Parents for Education, believes the LCAP meetings could be even more productive. She said rather than listening to parents rattle off a wide-ranging school “wish list,” the district should have explored best practices in education across the state and nation and presented those school improvement efforts for parents to consider.

Kurth, who also attended the Correia meeting, said the new funding formula gives schools and districts an unprecedented opportunity “to do something different and better, or maybe do something new.” Arming parents with information about specific strategies that address common educational concerns, such as school safety, would help the district develop a stronger accountability plan, she said.

Karla Scoon Reid covers Southern California for EdSource.

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.

 

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