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Montebello Unified Prepares For Local Control Funding Draft

As school districts throughout the state are preparing to present their plan for new state allocated funding aimed at greater local control, stakeholders at the Montebello Unified School District are anxiously waiting to see how funds will be used to improve services offered to the district’s “high-needs” students.

The district, in accordance with state requirements, must adopt LCAP (Local Control Funding and Accountability Plan) by the end of the month. The LCAP must outline how the district will use state funds aimed at improving performance among students that are low-income, in foster care, and/or are English Learners. The state has identified eight priority areas, including access to core services, student achievement, student engagement, parent involvement, school climate, implementation of the common core state standards, course access, suspensions and expulsions, and student outcomes in other areas of study.

MUSD began meeting with parents, teachers, staff and students across the district in January to gather input on how they would like to see the funds used, according to the district. They held town hall meetings with teachers, met with parent advisory committees and put up a survey on their website, according to MUSD.

“We got input from a lot of stakeholders,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Cheryl Plotkin.

MUSD Boardmember Edgar Cisneros said he is “very anxious” to see the final consensus.

“We reached out to as many groups” as we could, said Cisneros. “Getting stakeholders input is very important because we want to do this right.”

Cisneros said the district also made it a point to gather input from classified and non-classified employees.

“This doesn’t just affect the classroom, this affects our facilities,” he said.

A rough draft of the district’s LCAP will be available online on Monday, says Plotkin and stakeholders can send their comments to the district before the public hearing June 5.

Gov. Jerry Brown approved the local control funding formula last year in order to give districts more control over how they spend state funds at schools with “high needs” students – low income, English Learners and foster kids – allocating more funding to schools with higher percentages of students who meet that criteria. District’s with more than 55% of students categorized as “high-needs” receive even more funding.

Montebello Unified qualifies for the extra funding because 83% of their student population is on free or reduced lunch – a key assessment for determining the percentage of low-income students at a school, said Plotkin

Unfortunately, base funding is declining due to a decline in enrollment, she added. Plotkin attributes that decline to an overall population decline and a reduction of transfer permits being issued to out of district students.

Plotkin estimates that 12,200 elementary students will be enrolled in the district, while only 6,400 will be enrolled in middle school and 9,400 in high school for the 2014-15 academic school year.

During their meeting with parents, many of those who attended advocated for more college and career readiness programs and expressed a desire for the district and schools to communicate more with parents, said Plotkin.

Teachers, on the other hand, asked for smaller class sizes, more professional development for teachers and more technology in the classroom.

Cisneros told EGP his priorities are reducing class size, increasing instructional days and improving conditions such as the state of the restrooms, which was a common complaint he heard from students, parents and staff during his campaign for office.

Of the hundreds of parents they spoke to, Lourdes Hale, the district’s director of integrated technology and instruction, said one of the topics that came up most often was school productivity .

“They made suggestions to improve or continue to work to make the school as a whole more fitting for students,” she said, referring to both the conditions of the school and the educational programs available to students such as tutoring and summer school.

The district plans, “as much as possible,” to ensure that all school sites offer the same opportunities and programs available to them, says Plotkin.

Plotkin told EGP that their current comprehensive learning framework already fulfill the eight priorities of the state aimed at ensuring students are learning to read in third grade, English learners are being reclassified and that students are college ready

“Our goals will be covered within our framework,” she said, referring to the district’s commitment to a student-driven path to college and careers.

While it my appear that Montebello Unified is getting as much as $28 million in additional revenue as a result of the new funding formula, Cheryl told EGP the reality is it won’t be all new funds. She is estimating that only $23 million will actually be new funding after a reduction of $5 million in base funding.

Plotkin told EGP the district has been “consciously” spending up to $18 million over their budget but have avoided laying off employees by digging into their reserves.

“We’ve been spending more than taking in” over the years, she said. “The district’s reserves have been reduced down to the 3% minimum that is required by the state.”

Once the board approves the LCAP, Plotkin says the bump in funds during the 2015-2016 school year is expected to reflect the input received by the stakeholders such as after school programs, tutoring, arts, sports and summer school.

This year the district plans to “replenish its savings,” and focus on regrouping instead of implementing any big changes, said Plotkin.

“Our reserves took a hit due to decisions by previous administrations,” said Cisneros. “A lot of people think we’re going to get a lot of money but we’re going to get enough to build back our reserves.”

“By having a year that is tighter, it gives an opportunity to see which programs work and which can be eliminated,” said Plotkin.

Cisneros told EGP the board, despite having limited funds available, has focused on keeping programs that work and eliminating positions to streamline administration, just like he said he would do while campaigning last year for office,

“I want this [LCAP] to succeed,” said Cisneros. “If the state keeps its word…this is our chance to decide how to use our funds.”

The final draft of the LCAP will be presented at the June 26 board meeting.