Education Matters: Money is flowing, but in the right direction?

The state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) has provided school districts with significantly increased revenue which was intended to address the needs of traditionally under-performing groups of students, as well as advance achievement for all students.

Using LCFF funds for across-the-board increases in teacher salary is essentially paying more for the same level of service, many experts say, and does not promise an improvement in the delivery of instruction or quality of instructional materials.

In addition, many have argued the LCFF money should not be used for salary increases, because it is one-time funding and raises are a multi-year commitment.

Yet, many districts – including the San Dieguito Union High School District – did it.

No one would argue that San Dieguito’s teachers didn’t deserve a structural salary increase after seven years of going without – although “going without” is misleading because teachers receive regular increases in pay under the step-and-column system which rewards teachers annually for years in the district and education credentials.

But the size of the raise was staggering.

One issue before voters this election year is whether the raise – 12.5 percent for every employee in the district – was appropriate, so it’s fair to revisit the decision.

Three of the five San Dieguito board members – Joyce Dalessandro, Beth Hergesheimer and Amy Herman – voted in favor of the salary increase, with Mo Muir and John Salazar opposed.

Although the district also recorded revenue from other sources, LCFF was a windfall.

Last year, Eric Dill, then Associate Superintendent of Business Services and now the district’s Interim Superintendent, said the district received about $94 million in Base Grant LCFF money for 2015-2016, and all that “is unquestionably flexible.”

“The use of Base Grant funding is completely discretionary as part of the local control granted to each school district,” Dill said in an email.

He said the Supplemental Grant portion of the LCFF that the district received – about $1.6 million – is all that must be dedicated to serving low-income and English learner students.

The combined amount of about $95.8 million, he said, adds up to the total entitlement from the state for the district in 2015-2016.

State assembly woman and local education hero Shirley Weber – never shy about speaking her mind – said in an article in July 2015 with “LA School Report” that the LCFF money was not intended for teacher raises.

Weber, a Democrat, was reacting to Calif. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s misguided interpretation of the 2013 LCFF law which he said allowed districts to use the cash to give teachers raises if districts can simply argue that the pay increases would “make a difference.”

The original intent, Weber said, was to improve achievement and address the needs specific to low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

In the 2014 election, San Diego County went for Torlakson’s opponent Marshall Tuck, by 55.9 percent over 44.1 percent. Torlakson won though, benefiting from major donations from the California Teachers Association which supported his re-election.

An across-the-board salary increase, ill-advised by many education experts, does not target students in low-performing sub-groups.

Nor does it address the need for crucial supplies that aid learning.

Diegueno Middle School’s science department, for example, recently sent a note to parents asking for donations to its science lab “to support the hands-on lab experiments in the classroom.”

Listing items needed that the dept. said were costly, the note states, “Our budget has been cut 80 percent over the last 10 years, yet our student population has remained the same.”

At La Costa Canyon High School, a teacher had to beg for money for more lunch seating and to provide a sunshade for students at lunchtime. The amount he asked for? A measly $1,800.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if San Dieguito had allocated even a tiny fraction of the millions that went to salary increases to address student needs like these?

The district’s school foundations seek donations every year to pay for academic and athletic programs.

La Costa Canyon parent Lucile Lynch, who alerted me to these two examples, commended the foundations and teachers for their efforts to generate the supplemental funding to support academic programs.

But, “At some point,” she said, “families and community members have to wonder where the [district’s] money is going and why not more of it is going directly to these and other programs.”

She said La Costa Canyon families were recently notified that the Pathways program is not fully funded and that additional funding will be needed to continue this academic endeavor.

“The list goes on and on,” she said.

“We hear all the time how we’re doing great, but maybe we’re not doing great in how we allocate some of the funding,” Lynch said. “If the district has the money, then let’s take parents, community members and teachers out of the fundraising business.”

It’s an insult to ask – nay, beg – parents for money for every little thing when so much has been provided for salary increases.

Before anything else, when allocating “extra” revenue, the district should place at the top of its list science lab supplies, classroom instructional materials and other minor one-time expenses that directly and positively impact student learning and well-being.

Note: Please read next week's column for further clarification of the LCFF discussion. -- Marsha Sutton

Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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