October 27, 2014

By Angelica Jongco 

The first time I drove out to Antioch on a hot Monday night in July for a parent meeting, I initially passed right by the CCISCO office. The building is rather nondescript — there’s no sign indicating that it’s the office for the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, or indication of the important plans that are hatched within its four walls.

CCISCO is a multi-racial, multi-generation, interfaith federation that represents 38,000 families across Contra Costa County. It is part of the PICO California network, which has been a close partner to Public Advocates on both our education equity and metro equity work, and serves as a plaintiff in our Campaign for Quality Education v. California school funding case.

Yuritzy Gomez, CCISCO’s energetic community organizer, had invited Public Advocates to meet with community members. Parent leaders slowly trickled in to sit down around a rectangular conference table. Under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), districts are supposed to engage parents in identifying priorities for spending their education dollars. As we went around the room, I heard that while the school district had held numerous meetings with parents, leaders from the groups gathered there that evening, including CCISCO, GRIOT (Greatness Rediscovered In Our Time), Parents Connected and NAACP-East County, were concerned that the district hadn’t followed through by putting enough money behind the things parents said their schools needed — things like restorative justice practices, more Spanish-speaking liaisons at schools, social and emotional counseling, and more reading teachers for elementary schoolchildren.

On a small white board at the front of the room, I drew a bar graph to explain how Antioch Unified School District had made a miscalculation that would deprive the district’s high-need students of tens of millions of dollars over the next several years.

The parents in the room had worked hard to engage in their local process to prioritize services for high-need students. Making such priorities a reality was an important goal of the Local Control Funding Formula. But was it working?

About Local Control Funding Formula

Under the new Local Control Funding Formula, every school district had to adopt its first three-year spending and educational plan called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (or LCAP) by June 30, 2014. This plan is supposed to list the school district’s goals to improve education over the next three years, and the actions and spending to achieve those goals.

In addition to the same base funds for each student, school districts receive additional dollars (called “supplemental and concentration funds”) based on their number and percentage of low-income students, English language learners and foster youth. Districts must grow services for these particular high-need students in proportion to the additional funds those students generate.

About 67% of Antioch Unified’s students fall into one or more of these high-need categories. Yet, parents told me how frustrated they were that the school district only planned to allocate $650,000 to fund the new services for high-need students they had helped identify, despite a community engagement process that had brought many needs to the district’s attention.

After CCISCO asked us to take a closer look at the district’s spending plan, Public Advocates determined that the district severely underestimated the amount of money that it needed to spend this school year to better serve low-income students, English language learners and foster youth. This past year, Public Advocates and CCISCO were part of the coalition of advocates, parents and students that won a specific formula in state regulations to guide school districts in calculating funds generated by high-need students.  In Antioch, the school district had made critical errors in this calculation.

Parents and community members had raised concerns about Antioch Unified’s miscalculation of funds at school board meetings in June. But the school board, seemingly unfamiliar with the requirements of the new regulation, went ahead and adopted the LCAP anyway.

Building Community Power

Later that week, Public Advocates sent a letter on behalf of CCISCO, GRIOT and NAACP-East County Chapter to the school district and Contra Costa County Office of Education to explain that the district was underfunding services for high-need students. The county is responsible for reviewing and approving district LCAPs.

In mid-August, the county office of education did not approve Antioch Unified’s LCAP because of the concerns we raised. District staff then reached out to CCISCO and Public Advocates to tell us they appreciated the points we raised in our letter and were planning to redo their LCAP to address our concerns.

From that point on, there was a real shift in how the district communicated with our groups. District staff presented their proposed revisions to community leaders and spent time answering our questions. These meetings were not always easy, but they were respectful and provided a space to share information.

While the district’s initial revision finally calculated the correct amount of supplemental and concentration funds, it also improperly included $5.6 million for an across-the-board salary and benefits increase for all staff. Supplemental and concentration funds are supposed to be focused on growing services for high-need students, and a staff salary increase—while perhaps a justifiable use of core district funding—does not typically qualify as an increase or improvement in services for students in general, let alone low-income students, English Learners and foster youth.

In discussions and public comment on the revised LCAP with the district, my colleague John Affeldt and I focused on explaining the purpose of the funds generated by high-need students, and why the staff salary increase was not a proper use of those funds. We stressed the importance of meaningfully engaging community members in the decision-making process.

CCISCO and other community groups kept the pressure on the district to collaborate and continued to lift up the needs that children were experiencing in their schools—needs that more resources could help to address.

They met with the superintendent to start talking about what meaningful community engagement should look like, their concerns about last year’s process, and what they would like to see in the coming year.

At a packed community forum sponsored by CCISCO, parents and students spoke directly to the Superintendent and district staff. At the forum, the district presented a revised Local Control and Accountability Plan that included more than $1.6 million in genuinely new services for high-need students. The district also pulled the controversial $5.6 million in staff salary increases from supplemental and concentration spending. In the days that followed, district staff explained more clearly how it planned to improve services for high-need students, and invited community members to hold them accountable.

While the district’s plan is not perfect, it is a huge step in the right direction. The last we heard, the additional $1 million in supplemental and concentration funding will be going towards priorities outlined by the Parent Advisory Committee, including more middle school counselors to provide social and emotional support, targeted third-grade reading teachers, and bilingual liaisons at several elementary schools.

The revised Antioch LCAP is a significant victory for community engagement and a testament to the fact that LCFF is working to send the message that districts must listen to community voices. In a matter of weeks, we were able to partner with parents and help redirect millions of dollars over the next several years towards thousands of high-need students in Antioch.  From now on, the district has promised to work with community members to set priorities, to provide greater transparency on its budget, and to evaluate whether the actions in its LCAP are effective for all students.

And that brings us much closer to fulfilling the promise of the new law and the mission that Public Advocates shares with critical partners like CCISCO—to build community power.

Learn more about how the new school funding law increases resources, transparency and community engagement for parents and students.


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