Posted on 23 January 2014 by La Habra Journal
State budget could allow for millions to be cut from statewide school programs.
By Jane Williams
La Habra Journal
California school districts of all sizes, including those in La Habra, hope to receive more state money for the economically disadvantaged students enrolled. This is after Governor Jerry Brown announced his proposed budget that would allow for local control and has some concerned about the funding to their programs.
In past years, the districts received what were referred to as “categorical funds” dispensed at the state level in as many categories as the Department of Education established. Beginning in 2014-15, a district with greater than 55 percent of its students fitting in the economically disadvantage category will receive up to 20 percent more funds. The local districts will dole out those funds where it sees fit to meet the goals set by the state.
The proposed Local Control Funding Formula proposed by the governor and supported by the state legislators, will be governed by a Local Control and Accounting Plan set forth by the state legislators in consultation with the California Department of Education. The objective of the plan, according to the Department of Education, is to provide simplicity and transparency while creating a funding mechanism that is focused on the needs of each district’s students, is equitable and is easy to understand. Next year’s funding for 2014-15 will be based in large part on the number of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches and the number of students classified as English Language Learners. That will result in La Habra City School District receiving a generous increase in its per-pupil funding, however, Lowell Joint School District will not qualify for these monies. While individual schools in the district might meet the qualifications, the district as a whole does not, according to district officials. For the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, which includes La Habra and Sonora High Schools, the problem is even worse. “Our district as a whole does not have as many disadvantaged students as the formula requires,” said Superintendent George Giokaris. “If our population remains the same over the next few years, we will actually lose $9 million annually compared to what we would have gotten under the old formula. A district has to have 55 percent of its students disadvantaged, and we don’t see this area reaching that. Along with losing money, we may also lose 100 teachers.” Giokaris added that the governor, and those creating the formula, are showing little knowledge of what a comprehensive high school is and appear to have designed the formula based on the needs of elementary schools. He explained that they particularly ignored what educators call “career technical areas of education.” Giokaris and many educators in the district and statewide believe that students can master and retain core skills like algebra through solving problems in auto shop, agricultural programs or engineering classes. “If you truly want to reach more kids with knowledge they know they need, then you need to expand the areas of career tech education,” Giokaris added. To do so, Giokaris is working with a coalition of 54 other districts to convince state legislators and the governor to pay more attention and money to career technical education at the high school level, to ROP, to community colleges (that also provide certification in many technical and career areas) and to adult education. “This is an opportunity to develop educational alliances across many programs and make a real difference,” Giokaris said. We’re seeking to get more educational dollars to all career tech education. It is what many of the economically disadvantaged students particularly need, as do many of our other students.” Locally it is the agricultural teachers and department chairs sounding the alarm. Sonora’s department chair, Phil Pacia, who was just named Outstanding Agricultural Mechanics teacher in Southern California and whose department was recently named the Outstanding Agricultural Department in Orange County, explained the situation the departments face. “In the mid-1980s, the state established Agricultural Incentive Grants to improve the quality of the high school programs. The state school board set up the standards each year and determined the qualifications. It was not a beauty contest. The programs had to be real and have a distinct purpose,” Pacia said. The incentive grants amounted to $4.1 million throughout the state. That money has now been swept into the local control funding. Pacia’s counterpart at La Habra High, Jaimee Rojas, added, “The Ag Incentive Grant went directly to student supplies all the materials we need for hands-on learning. It was going directly to things like pen repairs, flower and tree stock and seed for the gardens and floriculture, plus conferences and field trips. It particularly assisted those students when they apply what they learn in the classroom to a specific project.” Between the two schools in La Habra, about 1,000 students in the community, or 30 percent of the enrollment, is the focus, Pacia pointed out. “The governor has taken the position that if the program is valued in the community, it will be funded.” Pacia is concerned about the idea of placing the different departments in direct competition for funds. He is trying to organize current and former students and their families to contact state legislators and explain how important such education is or was to their children. A quiet, shy young Rancho Junior High student was so intrigued with a display the La Habra High Ag Department brought to his school three years ago for high school Get Acquainted night, he enrolled in the freshman agricultural class. “I didn’t do much then. I had few friends in junior high and wasn’t at all out-going,” Aaron Sivard recounted. “Then Mr. Johnson asked me if I’d like to join Future Farmers of America, and if I did, why didn’t I try for an office.” From there Sivard went on to enter FFA speech competitions as an individual and as a team. He now speaks with ease to anyone interested in the many areas of agriculture. He also was chosen to be the FFA secretary this year. He plans to go on to college and possibly major in plant science and its chemistry. Sivard explained how a lab had made a 6- to 8-ounce hamburger patty out of a gene from a cow after much work to multiply it into a proper size. As an AP/Honors student, he had made his way through earth science, veterinarian science and biology, but along with that he also took a class that taught him some woodworking, a little welding, and quite a bit about gas engines. Giokaris stressed that when the district reduced its fulltime teaching positions by 65 out of 600 total over the past few years, the agricultural teachers grew from 9 to 11 to support the greater number of students who enrolled.
“The district strongly supports agricultural education,” Giokaris said. “It is such a priority we will get it to them even if our money is cut. We would also strongly support all career technical education and would like to see it funded appropriately.”