By Mike MacCarthy
Children of color, low performing students, and low-income families who rely on city schools to protect their interests, please take note. The January 18 edition of La Prensa featured a front-page story about how San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) was in the process of trying to silence the District Advisory Council (DAC) because it had filed a complaint with the state against SDUSD concerning a dispute over district use of Title I funds. Many of you may have wondered what happened at the next school board meeting concerning this issue. Here's the rest of the story.
As readers may recall, the DAC is a state and federally mandated group of volunteer parent representatives from SDUSD's 96 "compensatory education schools," which means such schools receive extra federal and state funds to assist low income or low performing students. The DAC's mission (according to the 1/18 story) is to "meaningfully consult" with the district and to "facilitate coordination and cooperation" of parents, staff, and community for the "benefit of compensatory education program participants." However, according to the California Department of Education (CDE), city schools did not properly consult with the DAC for the school years ending in 2000 and 2001, which means that some $160 million could be now due and owing back to all 96 SDUSD compensatory education schools. Furthermore, there's another $60 million at stake for the school year ending in June of 2002, which SDUSD is currently trying to force the DAC to sign away. Since the current duly elected officers of the DAC refused to sign off on these funds, SDUSD decided to force these volunteer parents out of office, and replace them with district employees. That was the issue before the school board on February 15th, but was then postponed until the next board meeting.
At its February 22 meeting, the city school board trustees voted 3-2 (Braun, Lopez, Ottinger for; de Beck and Zimmerman against) to dismiss the DAC's current officers on discriminatory technical grounds. Bottom line: Now that SDUSD can control what happens in the DAC, they can "arrange" for it to call off the lawsuits against the district and "suggest" that the new officers sign away their rights to $220 million dollars that may legally belong to the 96 "compensatory education schools" going back to 2000. In other words, Superintendent Bersin and his three-vote majority on the city school board just legally removed $220 million in Title I funds from disadvantaged city schools against their will to help pay for the so-called "Blueprint For Success." It is through this same program that the learning gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students has increased since 1998 from 17% to 24% in the school year ending June 2001.
This turn of events is a disgrace and an unacceptable disservice to all 143,000 San Diego city students, but especially to families whose children attend "compensatory education schools." It's high time parents, grandparents, teachers, and community groups banded together to make their voices heard on this re-direction of Title I funds away from second language learners, low performing students, and children of color. According to the original enabling legislation, this sort of raiding of Title I funds by school districts was supposed to be impossible. It's time for ALL members of the community to be heard, not just those SDUSD can control. It's time for everyone to make sure they're a properly registered voter, show up at city school board meetings or watch them live on TV, and familiarize themselves with the issues facing voters in the upcoming March 5th school board primaries.
Mike MacCarthy is Publisher of San Diego Writer's Monthly and President of Voters For Truth in Education (VO/TE), a California nonprofit corporation dedicated "to better the education of students attending the public schools within the cities and towns of San Diego County."