California’s 58 county offices of education generally receive far less attention than the school districts within their geographic boundaries. But they have been given an important role in implementing the financial reforms championed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In particular, they are responsible for approving the Local Control and Accountability Plans that every district is required to draw up. Here, Orange County schools superintendent Al Mijares gives his views on how the LCAPs are working.
What lessons have you learned from the first two years of LCAPs in your county?
Perhaps the most critical lesson is that in order to have effective and meaningful stakeholder engagement, consideration must be given to educating parents, community members and other stakeholders. That means providing timely and relevant information about changes in school funding, the focus on desired outcomes, and what their roles and responsibilities are as they move forward.
Having strong relationships with our districts is also extremely important. The LCAP is about continuous improvement, so we must continue our efforts to be proactive in supporting our districts.
Are you inspired, frustrated, overwhelmed or any combination of those?
I would say that a combination of all three would be appropriate, but above all we are inspired by the opportunity to engage more thoroughly with our stakeholders and share our successes. Our organization has gone to great lengths to help educate our stakeholders on the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the LCAP in order to empower them to participate in the process more thoroughly. It has been inspirational to see parents develop an understanding of the new funding and accountability system and have them get more involved in the process for continuous improvement.
What goals did you start with two years ago, and where are you now?
From the start, we wanted our districts to understand that the LCAP was a strategic planning process focused on continuous improvement rather than an exercise in compliance. That has certainly been the case, and we have seen an increase in the overall quality of Local Control and Accountability Plans as districts and their stakeholders are actively pursuing continuous improvement. From a county office approval perspective, we also strived to approve district budgets and LCAPs by Aug. 15 of each year, and we have been successful in meeting that goal.
What examples of significant changes have you seen in your county office?
Since the introduction of the LCFF, we have seen even greater collaboration throughout our own organization, as well as a continual appraisal of how we are spending money in relation to student outcomes. The LCFF eliminated most categorical programs, creating an incentive for county offices to ask critical questions about the efficacy of programs – and invest in those that have the greatest impact on students.
The LCAP document is longer with the addition of the annual update. Can parents, students and community groups understand it?
LCAPs have become very large and in-depth documents. As we work to educate stakeholders on the overall process, we are finding ways to create simplified versions for busy families and community members, including the addition of executive summaries and easy-to-understand infographics.
Do the LCAPs need to be reformatted to make them more user-friendly to all parties with an interest in them?
It’s always a balance. LCAPs in their current format contain critical data that’s used to drive decision-making and improve student outcomes. At the same time, we are always striving to create more user-friendly documents for our stakeholders.
What is your overall assessment of the LCAPs going into their third year? Do they matter? If so, how? If not, how could they be improved?
I believe that LCAPs do matter, and they are having a positive impact on public education. As a county office, in addition to developing our own plan, we have an opportunity to review and approve all district LCAPs within Orange County. What we have seen over the past three years can be summarized in three words: adjusting, learning and growing.
In the first year (2014-15 LCAP), districts were faced with a new funding formula, emergency regulations, a temporary LCAP template and a short window to implement. They adjusted very well. Districts had permanent regulations and a new LCAP template to implement in the second year (2015-16 LCAP). What we witnessed at a county level was that districts were learning and adapting very quickly. We are now in our third year (2016-17 LCAP), and we see tremendous interest in district LCAPs. Districts are demonstrating their experience through high-quality LCAPs, an emergence of best practices and a focus on increased outreach, transparency and engagement with stakeholders.
For interviews with four county superintendents, go here.