School Program Funding’s Musical Chairs
Santa Clara Unified ‘s April 24 study session on academic interventions brought together several issues about district performance and funding for intervention programs that have been under discussion since the current school year began in July 2013.
First, too many district schools have been in “Program improvement” for three years or more. (PI means a school isn’t meeting state-set Average Yearly Progress, AYP, goals).
Second, the district in in Title III “Year 4” status, meaning that for four or more years the district’s English Learners aren’t meeting at least one target AYP goal set by Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Third, a recent state audit found that Title III money was being used at the district level not at than the school level, as the law stipulates.
All of this is added to a new California education funding structure that moves more funding down from the district to the individual school level.
Basically, the district is being measured while the money to address these shortfalls goes directly to schools, which are then to decide what kind of intervention services they want. It may be hard to understand education funding’s byzantine operations, but understanding the consequences of being found wanting isn’t.
“You can be completely forced to change what you’re doing,” said Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Tanya Fisher. “They give you 45 days. We had to reallocate funding to sites, change funding sources on personnel action forms. And we didn’t want to disrupt services to students.”
In other words, some financial ‘musical chairs’ is needed to maintain continuity for students for the remaining six weeks or so of the current school year. But the good news is that the state is giving the district time to complete those funding shifts, rather than demanding an immediate overhaul – which would likely make those unsatisfactory AYPs even worse.
Fisher also addressed the assumption some have that moving funds from the district to the school level implied that the district’s RIS [reading intervention specialist] program would be disbanded. “I want to clarify that Dr. Fisher did not say that RIS was being eliminated. Rather than disband the program, I shared with the principals that they can continue those programs by using those funds.”
Fisher wants a K-12 Intervention Task Force to review current interventions. “Capacity-building has to begin in the classroom,” she said. “We can offer, for one year, the opportunity for schools to transition, but we must extend our intervention systems.”
Washington Open Gets Unique Scrutiny for Parent Group Donation
Recently, someone said that as a result of the administrative obstacles he faced when trying to make a donation to SCUSD, he instead made a sizable donation in his wife’s memory elsewhere. The April 24 meeting illustrated why.
Although donations are typically approved routinely, a $26,000 donation to Washington Open from its Parent Faculty Group was pulled for special discussion. The donation was earmarked for “additional student services, copier maintenance, tech support, garden supplies and staff development.”
Trustee Christopher Stampolis questioned whether accepting such donations was inequitable to schools with parents who couldn’t make such contributions. Further, he said he was “flummoxed about how it’s tracked…there’s no way if it goes into a general pot” or was being used to pay for things – i.e. photocopies – that the district is already paying for. “It leads me to want to vote note ‘no.'”
“Donations go into a special account and [use] is tracked like other expenses,” explained Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mark Algire. “Once it goes into the account, it is pretty much at the discretion of the principal.”
Trustee Ina Bendis dove into the question of copier maintenance. “When a school makes a copy of a piece of paper, how much is the charge? …What is the actual cost of making a photocopy?”
The copier costs related to Washington Open’s many field trips. “There’s a new policy for field trip permissions,” said union representative Patty Pickard, pointing out acerbically, “It’s a whole packet and it came from district lawyers. It’s your policy, you should know what that looks like.”
“I’m amazed we’re having this discussion,” said Trustee Andy Ratermann. “A parent group said: We want to give a whole bunch of money. If there was a problem with how it was used, they wouldn’t be giving that money again.”
In the end, the donation was accepted, but the special attention had some wondering if it was an attempt to create public question about Washington Open’s finances, like last year’s groundless accusations of “hidden” Cabrillo accounts.
Elementary School Music, Library and Science Fair Funding Restored
The board also approved the allocation of $300,000 to restore elementary school music – although there isn’t a plan on the table of how the money will be used – and $160,000 for additional library aides. On the list of additional allocations was $10,000 for the district science fair.
This perplexed Science Fair Chair Jodi Muirhead, who, with the Santa Clara Unified Parents (SCUP) has organized and run the annual event for four years – ever since budget cuts forced the district to drop it – with volunteers and private donations. Muirhead hadn’t heard anything about any changes. “At the last board meeting, I brought this up, but nobody’s [from the district administration] reached out to me.”
“To enable the district to support the science fair …will potentially bring it back into our curriculum,” Bendis answered obliquely.
“I think that’s an administrative issue for staff,” Bendis continued. “I know the volunteerism in our community at large. I certainly don’t see that the district giving our administration permission to spend up to $10,000 of funding toward science fair in any way precludes volunteerism or private donations.”
“So if we do not approve this today, it sounds like you’ll continue running the science fair through SCUP,” said Ratermann.
“There’s no urgency,” Muirhead replied. “We’re prepared to continue as we have been.”
That’s exactly what Muirhead plans to do as far as this year’s event is concerned, which will be held on May 19, with an open house from 6 to 7 p.m. on May 14 at the Wilcox auxiliary gym.
Science Fair a Stand-In for Continuing Old Arguments?
It’s no secret that Bendis has repeatedly challenged SCUP’s status as a legitimate “school-connected” organization and privately expressed a high level of rancor toward the group. SCUP refused Bendis membership because she isn’t a parent of a student currently attending SCUSD schools.
“This organization which purports to ‘represent’ SCUSD parents is actually controlled by a small cadre of Washington Open and Rivermark-based Don Callejon parents who actively supported the unsuccessful attempt by Ms. Flot and Ms. Strauss to oust me from the Board and thwart Dr. Koltermann’s election,” she wrote in a 2011 email to then-Superintendent Bobbie Plough, referring to the 2010 election. This may also explain the unusual questioning of the Washington Open donation earlier in the meeting.
“SCUP’s active members…who are predominantly white and Asian, predominantly highly educated, and predominantly affluent, represent only the most privileged segment of the District’s ethnic or socioeconomic demographic, and exclude the most challenged demographic segments,” she continued.
“I do not want to see our District expend staff resources on ‘special interest’ requests by relatively advantaged subgroups (by virtue of ethnicity, culture, economics, parent education level, etc.),” she went on, “for reinstitution of programs that the District cannot afford to continue in our current fiscal crisis due to their drain on our budget (e.g., Elementary Music), staff time (e.g., District Science Fair) or both.”