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Credit: John Fensterwald / EdSource Today

Overfelt High School Principal Vito Chiala speaks with student organizers Ismael Mauricio and Stephanie Perez after the vote on how to spend $50,000.

Last fall, high school sophomores Stephanie Perez and Ismael Mauricio joined a contingent of students at a State Board of Education meeting demanding that students get a say in how school districts spend money.

The state board listened; its regulations for the new school funding formula now require districts to explicitly consult students before they write their annual spending plans under the Local Control Funding Formula.

Perez’s and Mauricio’s principal at Overfelt High School in San Jose listened, too, in a way that surprised them. Vito Chiala turned over $50,000 of the school’s discretionary funding to students to spend however they chose.

After a months-long campaign and a week of voting, students put themselves literally in the driver’s seat. They voted to spend the money on trips for 50 students to tour Southern California colleges, new uniforms for sports teams and, in first place, a six-hour driver education course for at least 30 students. The $9,600 expenditure will reinstate a driver education program that the East Side Union High School District once offered. Its elimination created a financial hardship for the school’s primarily low-income families, which have had to pay the approximately $300 in costs for a six-hour driving course plus a $30 fee for a written test, students said.

The top three ideas won out over two printing stations for students’ free use, after-school workshops to learn new computer skills, more outdoor lunch tables, career trips to Silicon Valley businesses and, much to Chiala’s relief, spending all 50 grand on a taco truck.

Surrounded by other members of the student group Californians For Justice, Karla Rodriguez, a junior at James Lick High in San Jose, asks the East Side Union High School District school board to include students in the LCAP process during a meeting in May. The State Board of Education will consider amending LCAP regulations to require school districts to solicit the views of students.

Credit: John Fensterwald/EdSource Today

With members of the student group Californians For Justice beside her, Karla Rodriguez, a junior at James Lick High, asked the East Side Union High School District school board last spring  to include students in the LCAP process. Some members also took their case to the State Board of Education, which, in the final LCAP regulations, required that school boards consult with students.

The exercise in participatory democracy was a show of faith that did not escape students’ notice.

“Last November, we went to Sacramento as part of our Student Voice Campaign,” said Perez, who, with Mauricio, is active in the East Side Union High School District’s chapter of Californians For Justice, a nonprofit that encourages student activism. “Mr. Chiala had the courage to step up, to trust us to make decisions about our (school’s) income.”

Chiala, watching as the results were announced, said, “Seriously, it made me nervous to have their hands in my pockets, but you have to trust the community to set priorities. The projects showed wisdom.”

“Even the taco truck,” he added. “It’s crazy and might not have been legal but it was bold and in the end was my favorite idea,” because it would have become a student-run business that could be used to market Overfelt to surrounding districts’ middle schools.

The students’ vote, via a computer survey, followed a year-long process of soliciting and vetting ideas from students, parents and teachers, then researching the costs, outlining arguments and taking the ballot to the school. The formal process was guided by the Participatory Budget Project, a New York City-based nonprofit that builds community involvement in local governments’ budgeting. More than a third of the school’s 1,450 students, plus a smattering of parents and alumni, voted.

Rosa De León, Californians For Justice’s lead organizer in East Side Union, said that Overfelt is one of the nation’s first schools to do participatory budgeting and could be the first school in California to allocate part of its budgets to students. She said she hopes its success catches on. Schools in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Richmond have expressed interest.

De León said that the project in Overfelt was part of the effort to involve students in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, the annual budget and priority-setting document required under the new state funding formula. The district has held two forums for students this year, and she said she’s confident that the LCAP will incorporate their suggestions.


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  1. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    Do you people find this acceptable? Why should our short in supply education dollars pay for drivers ed classes and fees only for specific individuals? Public schools are not welfare agencies. That money belongs to all the students not only to those with a financial hardship. Money has already been allocated to address hardship issues. And what value did the school get out of this exercise in democracy? A good bilking. The price tag … Read More

    Do you people find this acceptable? Why should our short in supply education dollars pay for drivers ed classes and fees only for specific individuals? Public schools are not welfare agencies. That money belongs to all the students not only to those with a financial hardship. Money has already been allocated to address hardship issues. And what value did the school get out of this exercise in democracy? A good bilking. The price tag was the same as what it would have cost if each students had paid individually.

    To Vito Chiala – that money they took from YOUR pockets wasn’t your money. If you want to give away money, give away your own money. You should be fired.

    Replies

    • Tom 1 year ago1 year ago

      Dude, it's only $50K. We pay more than that for a librarian or a music teacher in our district. Good to get the kids engaged in their school. Could have been worse - a taco truck. As far as school "welfare" it is already deeply entrenched, e.g. free lunch and now breakfast for everyone without strict means testing, TK and a now a push for free daycare! Not to … Read More

      Dude, it’s only $50K. We pay more than that for a librarian or a music teacher in our district. Good to get the kids engaged in their school. Could have been worse – a taco truck. As far as school “welfare” it is already deeply entrenched, e.g. free lunch and now breakfast for everyone without strict means testing, TK and a now a push for free daycare! Not to leave Gary out of the discussion, who is stalking me anyway, the unions treat schools first as job centers for their constituents instead of places of learning as the highest priority. Too many examples to start listing – it just is.

      • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

        The school has a mission to educate students, not to make sure they have driver's licenses or a taco truck. Where would students find the time in an AG schedule to operate a taco truck? Some kids are busy taking algebra, playing in the band, learning chemistry and participating in school government. That's what leads to college, develops leadership skills and fulfills needed requirements in a competitive world. While classes are overcrowded and support … Read More

        The school has a mission to educate students, not to make sure they have driver’s licenses or a taco truck. Where would students find the time in an AG schedule to operate a taco truck? Some kids are busy taking algebra, playing in the band, learning chemistry and participating in school government. That’s what leads to college, develops leadership skills and fulfills needed requirements in a competitive world. While classes are overcrowded and support staff is limited we have Vito Chiala handing out 50K as though it were his own money for students to make tacos or learn how to drive. Giving students a say in school government isn’t about turning over a chunk of change to them. His Freudian slip, “Seriously, it made me nervous to have their hands in my pockets….” shows me that he considers the school’s money his money and the school’s decisions his decisions. If he wants students participation he could enlist students in making their voices heard on the student council, the SSC and the PTSA. Tom, I’m surprise you take this misuse of funds so lightly.

        • Tom 1 year ago1 year ago

          I just like to see engagement by students and hope it will go to parents as well. So much money is wasted in government schools that $50K is no big deal to me. Can’t agree on everything I guess Don, but keep up the good work.

          • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

            Tom, if every school did this that would be to the tune of more than $300M.

        • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

          Don, if you visited Overfelt High and saw the leadership that Mr. Chiala is providing and the kids he has inspired to go to college, I am confident you would change your mind.

          • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

            Perhaps I would change my mind, and certainly one issue shouldn't override overall performance. But do we really want principals handing over $50K to students to do as they please with it? From what you wrote it sounded as if Chiala would have honored a student vote to have a taco truck. How can we rationalize this sort of largesse? Local control? It is one thing to give students a role in school decision-making. … Read More

            Perhaps I would change my mind, and certainly one issue shouldn’t override overall performance. But do we really want principals handing over $50K to students to do as they please with it? From what you wrote it sounded as if Chiala would have honored a student vote to have a taco truck. How can we rationalize this sort of largesse? Local control? It is one thing to give students a role in school decision-making. It is another thing to write them a check for whatever sort if projects they vote on, be that a hamburger stand, free California driver’s licenses or whatever. I thought we were concerned for our sorry state of funding??? Will the other schools take a cue from Mr. Chiala and start forking over their discretionary dollars for such projects? Doesn’t Mr Chiala have a librarian, counselor or outreach coordinator he could use? That said, he might take a cue from PTAs and allocate funding for projects that benefit all. I hope the district reads this and takes a good look at the wisdom of such a policy. The Board of Ed has to approve contracts and other expenditures. If principals can write checks without board approval, that is a very slippery slope. What if the taco truck idea was passed and some accident happened. Who’s culpable?

            • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

              Don: Indeed, Overfelt and other high schools in East San Jose could use more counselors -- the state's last in counselors per student, after all -- and Principal Chiala got a couple more this year as a top priority in the district's LCAP. The bigger point is that the students engaged in a very lengthy process of investigating their options and inviting all students and parents to participate before voting on what to do with … Read More

              Don: Indeed, Overfelt and other high schools in East San Jose could use more counselors — the state’s last in counselors per student, after all — and Principal Chiala got a couple more this year as a top priority in the district’s LCAP. The bigger point is that the students engaged in a very lengthy process of investigating their options and inviting all students and parents to participate before voting on what to do with the $50,000. I could tell, listening to students’ comments, that it meant a lot to them to have an actual say in a small fraction of the school’s budget after having campaigned before their school board and in Sacramento for a voice.

              It strikes me that the students showed good judgment. The biggest portion of the money will be used to take some seniors on a trip to colleges in Southern California — a rite of passage that wealthier parents do for their kids and sometimes foundations fund for charter schools. The next biggest expense will go toward partially paying for new sports uniforms — again, an expense that booster clubs in rich schools often cover.

              Driver’s ed is important for many high school students, certainly for low-income students who need to get to jobs and transport their younger siblings. Only 30 kids will benefit from the program. It will be interesting to how the students and Mr. Chiala decide how they will be chosen: merit, grades, need? That expense is $10,000. It’s hard to put a value on successfully making Overfelt studnets feel that adults are listening to them and honoring choices that others may disagree with.

            • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

              Don: Indeed, Overfelt and other high schools in East San Jose could use more counselors -- the state's last in counselors per student, after all -- and Principal Chiala got a couple more this year as a top priority in the district's LCAP. The bigger point is that the students engaged in a very lengthy process of investigating their options and inviting all students and parents to participate before voting on what to do with … Read More

              Don: Indeed, Overfelt and other high schools in East San Jose could use more counselors — the state’s last in counselors per student, after all — and Principal Chiala got a couple more this year as a top priority in the district’s LCAP. The bigger point is that the students engaged in a very lengthy process of investigating their options and inviting all students and parents to participate before voting on what to do with the $50,000. I could tell, listening to students’ comments, that it meant a lot to them to have an actual say in a small fraction of the school’s budget after having campaigned before their school board and in Sacramento for a voice.

              It strikes me that the students showed good judgment. The biggest portion of the money will be used to take some seniors on a trip to colleges in Southern California — a rite of passage that wealthier parents do for their kids and sometimes foundations fund for charter schools. The next biggest expense will go toward partially paying for new sports uniforms — again, an expense that booster clubs in rich schools often cover.

              Driver’s ed is important for many high school students, certainly for low-income students who need to get to jobs and transport their younger siblings. Only 30 kids will benefit from the program. It will be interesting to how the students and Mr. Chiala decide how they will be chosen: merit, grades, need? That expense is $10,000. It’s hard to put a value on successfully making Overfelt students feel that adults are listening to them and honoring choices that others may disagree with.

  2. Tom 1 year ago1 year ago

    What a great lesson in participatory government for the students! Just what the founding fathers wanted. Now if only this could be expanded to parents…

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Why yes. One need only look at the pictures of the Founding Fathers working on the Constitution for example. The scenes are just crawling with youngsters. It’s a real wonder that they are called the Founding Fathers and not Founding Children.

      • Tom 1 year ago1 year ago

        Not entirely clear what you are eluding to here Gary, but given your social progressive leaning, figure you are not a fan of the Founding Fathers and their product.

        • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

          Tom: My commitment to what the Founding Fathers stood for is endorsed monthly when my VA Disability "check," based on injuries received during the Tet Offensive of 1968 in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, arrives in my bank account. I don't know what credentials you can claim. My progressive leanings follow exactly the directive to "promote the general welfare" contained in the first paragraph, known as the Preamble, to a document you folks with conservative leanings might … Read More

          Tom:

          My commitment to what the Founding Fathers stood for is endorsed monthly when my VA Disability “check,” based on injuries received during the Tet Offensive of 1968 in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, arrives in my bank account. I don’t know what credentials you can claim.

          My progressive leanings follow exactly the directive to “promote the general welfare” contained in the first paragraph, known as the Preamble, to a document you folks with conservative leanings might familiarize yourselves with. It’s called the Constitution. Personally, I taught the document for 35 years and, again, I don’t know what credentials you can claim.

          • Tom 1 year ago1 year ago

            Thanks for your service Gary.

            You’re still wrong on a bunch of issues though, in my non-credentialed opinion, and I’m going to keep expressing my opinion per the first amendment, because I have three young kids in the government schools.

            • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

              It’s easy to say “you’re still wrong on a lot of issues,” but not so easy to demonstrate how my positions are wrong based on the facts.

              I’m glad to hear your children are in OUR (state) government’s schools.

              Of course you have a right to express your opinions. And I have the right to respond.

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