Planning and Budgeting Challenges of the LCFF and LCAP
Several years ago, the state of California enacted a new approach to school funding that transferred control of school finances from the state to local school districts. Each LEA (local education agency) would now determine how to allocate resources. The mandate was to improve services to low-income students, English language learners and foster youth using a Locally Controlled Accountability Plan (LCAP).
A diverse collection of teachers, administrators, parents and community members gathered to develop the LCAP. These stakeholders were charged with the task of developing a plan that would address the unique circumstances of our student population. The primary goal was to reduce the achievement gap between the targeted groups and the rest of the student population by assessing their needs and providing the necessary intervention. After years of inadequate funding, California ranked (and continues to rank) in the bottom tenth of the country in terms of per-pupil spending. There was great hope that this new funding and approach—allowing local people to make decisions for their communities—would provide adequate resources to help the targeted groups achieve better results.
Since 2014, the stakeholders have worked diligently to develop programs supported by both educational research and a deep understanding of our student population. Deciding which programs would be most effective proved challenging. An approach that is successful in one district cannot be blindly applied to another. At the end of the process, we felt we had achieved our goal, with the understanding that the LCAP is a living document that changes as new data emerges.
The board now faces a new challenge. As expenses rise (i.e., salaries, maintenance, facilities repair, transportation, and others), the funding is no longer sufficient to support all the programs we implemented. As of this moment, it appears that we must reduce our 2018-19 expenditures by approximately $400,000. Once again, as we struggle with the difficult decisions we face, we have attempted to engage in a transparent process that involves the same stakeholders. We have gathered information from community members, who have expressed their opinions to board members and on the Ukiah Unified School District website (uusd.net). We have also gathered information from staff and administrators, who have prioritized their recommendations. Now, the board is ready to conduct a special meeting to discuss the issue.
As we consider possible reductions, the board’s primary focus must continue to be on our students’ academic achievement. The California School Dashboard website allows us to access data on student progress. We will combine this information with more timely information gleaned from ongoing classroom assessments to help us determine which programs are working well. Research published by the California School Board Association suggests the following “promising practices” to help us align goals, programs and resources.
By providing clear guidelines for effective board governance, the California School Board Association has given us a template to discuss and implement budget reductions for the coming year. We have received input from stakeholders and will consider their suggestions carefully. While stakeholders may have strong opinions or preferences for particular programs, the board must support expenditures that we believe will result in increased student achievement. To do less would be to abdicate our fiscal and governing responsibility.