Alex Gronke
Parents and school officials review a draft of the West Contra Costa Unified LCAP in 2014

Lawyers on behalf of two parents and a student filed an administrative complaint on Monday asserting that West Contra Costa Unified officials are violating state law by failing to release student data needed to evaluate the district’s annual accountability plan.

In the complaint, the families say the district has not yet reported 2016-17 data on students, despite repeated requests from Public Advocates, Inc., a non-profit advocacy law firm and members of the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, committee over the past year. This is a violation of legal requirements under the Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s school funding and accountability law, they say.

“It’s just wrong for the district to withhold this information from parents who are eager to be involved in our kids’ education,” said Wendy Lopez, a member of the LCAP committee whose daughter is a 6th grader at Highlands Elementary in Richmond. “I hope that this complaint finally pushes them to do what is right.”

West Contra Costa Unified serves nearly 30,000 K-12 students in Richmond and surrounding East Bay communities. Seventy-one percent of its students are low-income, 35 percent are English learners and 0.5 percent are foster youth, according to the California Schools Dashboard.

According to state funding law, districts are required to update their accountability plans each year to track progress toward meeting goals. The plan is intended to provide transparent information to local communities about how districts are spending money targeted for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth.

This is the first complaint filed by families to enforce their right to obtain such data, which they say is critical to help them assess whether or not actions and services in the district’s current accountability plan are working or not.

The complaints were filed on behalf of two parents and a student by two law firms, Public Advocates Inc. and Mayer Brown, LLP, an international law firm that is working on this case pro bono as it did in 2016, when citizens challenged the district’s spending of its LCAP funds.

Data missing from the plan includes annual test scores, PSAT and SAT test results, completion rates for so-called A-G courses required for admission to University of California and California State University, completion rates for career technical education classes, AP exam pass rates, student school climate survey responses, teacher and principal retention rates and parent survey completion rates

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The district, however, contends it has followed the statutory requirements for the LCAP process and has worked extensively to provide its LCAP committee with tools and resources to understand it. The 2017-18 LCAP, which was published Aug. 14, 2017, included data that was available at that time, said district spokesman Marcus Walton.

Walton said the district will provide “a full report on the data requested” to the LCAP committee on May 1.

“The purpose of the annual update tables in each LCAP is to provide data that was not available in that LCAP year,” he said. “Data used to report progress in the 2016-17 year is available during the 2017-18 school year and published in the 2018-19 LCAP.”

He said pieces of the 2016-17 data have been presented to the LCAP committee and the school board “at various times this year” and noted that the committee “continues to give district staff feedback on the data it wishes to review in order to make informed decisions regarding the LCAP.”

“The district welcomes input from members of our community and will continue working to provide members of the community with the data and information necessary to make informed decisions for the education of their children,” he said.

A complaint was also filed on behalf of the parents and a student against the Contra Costa County Office of Education for approving the district’s plan without updated accountability metrics, saying the agency violated its duty to ensure that the plan met legal requirements. Instead, the complaint asserts, the district left old data from 2015-16 in the plan or simply omitted large chunks of required data completely.

But county officials say they, too, abided by the law when they approved the plan because it included the most recent data that was available at the time.

“There’s just a lag time,” said Pam Tyson, an administrative director in the county office of education. “They are looking at new data right now, but the LCAP that we approved was approved by their board and they can’t go in and change it because it’s an approved document.”

Terry Koehne, spokesman for the Contra Costa County Office of Education, said it is up to the district to provide its LCAP committee with the most current data it has as it is preparing its 2018-19 LCAP.

Although some of the data, such as test scores, is available on state websites, some of it is not, said Rigel S. Massaro, senior staff attorney for Public Advocates. And many parents do not know how to navigate the state’s complicated sites to find the data they need, she added.

“The LCAP is the only place we get to see — not just district outcomes — but whether the outcomes measure up to the goals and how effective the practices and services were,” she said. “Just to see something out in isolation and disconnected from that larger context kind of defeats the purpose of the LCAP.”

Lopez agreed, saying the district’s LCAP is confusing because of the missing data. Furthermore, she said she is frustrated by the district’s lack of responsiveness after her committee has repeatedly requested more information to assess the LCAP’s goals.

“We don’t have any data on what is working for the students and what is not,” said Lopez. She added that the district is planning budget cuts to pay for teacher raises, but hasn’t involved the committee in its decision-making process. “We all should know what they’re cutting and why. We should see the data behind those reasons because they might just say, ‘It’s not working,’ but we don’t really know.”

The complaint against the district asks that the data be updated and presented to the school board and distributed widely, including on the district’s website. The complaint against the county asks that the district be ordered to update its LCAP and that all future LCAPs be required to include annual data updates.

Districts must solicit input from the community and LCAP committee about ways to improve services for high-needs students.

Public Advocates

Kateryn Ochoa, an El Cerrito High junior, is a member of the West Contra Costa Unified LCAP committee.

Student Kateryn Ochoa, an 11th-grader at El Cerrito High and a member of the district’s LCAP Committee, said she wants to see school climate and student engagement data to understand how well the district is meeting its obligation to provide safe and positive learning environments.

“How can we participate in local decision-making if we don’t have data about how students are doing and feeling?” she said.

 Reginaldo Ochoa, Kateryn’s father, says the community demands immediate action. “This is information that interests the entire WCCUSD community.”

Both West Contra Costa Unified and the Contra Costa County Office of Education have 60 days to respond to the complaints, which were filed according to the state Department of Education’s Uniform Complaint Procedures. If those who filed the complaint are not satisfied with the district and county responses, they can appeal to the state Department of Education, Massaro said.

EdSource receives support from a dozen philanthropic foundations, including the Chamberlin Family Foundation. However, editorial decision-making and content remain under the sole control of EdSource. Earlier this year, Julie Wright, executive director of the foundation was among eight who signed a letter endorsing the request for additional information from the district.

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