Cleaning up GATE confusion, Fair Share and how the budget crisis is hitting home

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

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Marsha Sutton

In a recent column, it was reported that the Del Mar Union School District was diverting state money for its Gifted and Talented Education program to other district needs, but confusion has since arisen.

DMUSD’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instructional services, Holly McClurg, initially said the GATE money being diverted amounted to a few thousand dollars. This money, she said, had been used to test students for GATE identification purposes and would now be directed to other district programs such as teacher professional development.

However, a March 23 board meeting agenda item included a chart showing that the amount from the state for the district’s GATE program was $14,204 and that this money was being returned to the state for the district’s Fair Share payment (more on Fair Share later in this column).

The impression from the original column, based on the district’s information, was that the total from the state for GATE was just a few thousand dollars and that this money would now be used for professional development. Instead, it’s much more, and all of it is being returned to the state.

When asked to explain the discrepancy, McClurg wrote in an email: “To clarify, the district’s program for advanced learners is not changing. A goal of the DMUSD program is to provide meaningful, rigorous learning opportunities commensurate with the qualities and potential of each student. That will continue to be a goal and focus for our district’s program. The only piece that is changing is the formal identification process that was previously done in 6th grade. Regarding the funding: When factoring in the indirect costs and personnel associated with monitoring the formal assessment process, the amount available for other purposes is minimal.”

Because this answer was so obfuscating and unresponsive to my actual question, I tried asking again. McClurg responded a second time, saying in part, “Exclusive of a few thousand dollars that were left in the GATE budget for the purpose of testing our students, the GATE funds were diverted to pay for our ‘fair share’ to the state. GATE funds that had been diverted were offset with our district’s general fund to pay for professional development for teachers…”

DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody explained further. “That actual $14,000 goes to the state from the GATE budget,” he said. “But we have money in our budget that we choose to spend on GATE just as if it was the state’s money.”

In other words, the district takes money out of its general fund and uses it for what GATE money from the state previously provided, minus the testing which is about $2,000 of the $14,000.

Peabody said the district had set aside a few thousand dollars to administer GATE testing. And since GATE testing is being discontinued, so is the money.

The rest of the money — the $14,000 less the $2,000 dedicated to testing — “we put into professional development for GATE,” Peabody explained.

He said the district’s Fair Share payment comes out of categorical programs. “But we don’t want to see those categoricals — such as GATE, special education, English language learners — harmed,” he said. “So we take money from our general fund and backfill it to make up for what the state takes out of those programs.”

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