BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans speaks with participants at the first of several LCAP forums for the community, this one in December 2013. Photo: Mark Coplan
BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans speaks with participants at the first of several LCAP forums for the community, this one in December 2013. Photo: Mark Coplan

Berkeley schools are getting an extra $2.4 million this year to help low-income students and English learners under a new state funding system. To decide how best to spend the money, the district has been working with the community for the past seven months.

Last week administrators shared the first draft of the three-year plan, which includes hiring more teachers of English as a foreign language and more reading specialists. The district is looking for feedback on the draft by this Friday, May 9.

The plan is called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). It is part of a new system of state funding for schools, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which began this school year.

It sounds dry, but it’s a big deal, said BUSD Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith. In fact, Smith said, the LCFF is the biggest change in how California schools are funded that he’s seen in his 25-year career with Berkeley schools.

A meeting of the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) and District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) on April 24, 2014. Photo: Mark Coplan
A Berkeley gathering for the Latino community to discuss the special funding on April 24, 2014. Photo: Mark Coplan
A Berkeley gathering for the Latino community to discuss the special funding on April 24, 2014. Photo: Mark Coplan

Unfortunately, it’s not so much about getting a lot more money from the state for schools, although funds should increase little by little each year. School funding dropped dramatically after the economic crash. “But it’s still not up to where we were in 2007-08,” Smith said.

The difference is in how schools can spend their money. Under the old system, about one-third of a district’s state funding was earmarked for specific uses – and there were about 40 categories.  So, for example, the money given for textbooks could be used only on textbooks.

Under the new system, most of the school funding now comes without earmarks and can be spent as the district sees fit.

In addition, the state provides extra funds for the target group, which includes low-income students (those who qualify for free or reduced lunch), English learners, and foster kids. The three groups make up 42 percent of Berkeley’s school population.

The students in that target group typically perform worse on standardized tests and the high school exit exam. Those scores are folded together into a number called the Academic Performance Index. Last school year’s API average for Berkeley students was 821; for socio-economically disadvantaged students the score was 750, and for English learners it was 703.

While Berkeley schools are now getting that additional $2.4 million in funding to serve that target group, how it spends that money requires community input for the Local Control and Accountability Plan.

To create this plan, meetings began last December, with a public forum that generated a list of 140 suggestions. In January, several groups began meeting, including principals, teachers, school staff, union representatives, parents, students and community members.

The result, Smith said, was $10 million worth of ideas for the $2.4 million budget. School administrators have now pared down the ideas to fit the budget, and presented the first draft at a BUSD board meeting on April 30. With input from the board and the community, a second draft will be presented May 21. The public hearing on the final draft is June 11.

The largest budget item on the three-year plan, at nearly $900,000 per year, is for grouping English learners by fluency levels for small group instruction. That means hiring nine more teachers. 

The plan also includes:

  • More  reading specialists, so that each site has a full-time person;
  • A full-time intervention coordinator at the high school to identify and help kids who are falling behind and part-time interventions advisors at the grade schools;
  • Site coordinators to get families in the target group more engaged at school;
  • Contracts with agencies for student mental health services;
  • Increasing the number of teachers of color by 1 percent each year (up from the current 29 percent).
  • More teacher training in cultural awareness.

Goals include raising test scores and graduation rates for low-income students and English learners, and lowering absences and suspensions.

At the April 30 BUSD board meeting, Laura Babitt, a board member of Parents of Children of African Descent, said she didn’t think the goals for African-American students were set high enough.  For instance, the goal for African-American third-graders reading at grade level by 2016-17 is only 65 percent, based on a 5 percent increase each year, while the overall goal is 80 percent.

“It doesn’t close the (achievement) gap fast enough,” Babitt said. Several school board members agreed.

“Some goals need to be much more aggressive,” said school board member Julie Sinai.

“We know we can be more aggressive, but we also want to be realistic,” countered Superintendent Donald Evans.

In addition, school board members questioned whether some of the proposed actions, such as reducing middle school math class sizes from 28 to 24, were the best possible use of money for the target group.

Board members also asked the staff to be more specific about some goals, so that the solutions would be more targeted. For instance, they suggested one could indicate that attendance rates for African-American students, specifically, need to improve, and then actions could be more tailored.

Review the 36-page first draft of the LCAP. (Note: there is a glossary of terms and acronyms at the end of the document.)

Written comments are due by 4 p.m. Friday, May 9, and should be e-mailed to lcap@berkeley.net, or mailed to: Berkeley Unified School District,  Office of the Superintendent, Attn: LCAP Comments, 2020 Bonar St., Berkeley, CA 94705

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Mary Flaherty is a freelance reporter who has lived in the Berkeley area for since 1994. She earned a masters in journalism from UC Berkeley, and has reported for several local papers and copyedited for...