District protests loss of teacher training funds

District protests loss of teacher training funds

Michele Ellson
Alameda Unified School District

Updated at 5:21 p.m. Tuesday, April 29

For more than a decade, Alameda Unified has been part of a multi-district program that helps new teachers transition successfully into the classroom. State funding for the program was collected by Newark Unified and distributed to the four other districts who belonged to the East Bay BTSA Induction Consortium, one of the many collaborations embarked on by districts seeking to maintain services as state schools spending dwindled.

But this year may be the last one that Newark Unified distributes money for the beginning teacher support and assessment program, or BTSA, schools leaders said, as the result of what some are characterizing as an unexpected consequence of changes in the way state funds are distributed to schools. And they said Newark’s decision could spell the end of the support services and credentialing payments to teachers in the four remaining districts – Alameda, Berkeley, San Leandro and San Lorenzo.

“The lack of BTSA funding will either decimate our BTSA programs or, at best, force us to pull funds from other educational programs to make up what will be hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital, Alameda Education Association president Audrey Hyman and Alameda Board of Education president Margie Sherratt wrote in an April 14 letter to Newark schools leaders that called the decision “unethical” and a “grievous disservice” to teachers and students in the four other districts.

For decades, BTSA was a “categorical” program, one of many schools programs with its own dedicated state funding stream. But the state’s new schools funding scheme put in place this year eliminated many of these individual funding streams, lumping the money into bigger base grants school district leaders can use as they see fit.

As a result, schools leaders in Alameda and three other districts said, money that should have funded program and credentialing support for all of the districts is instead being lumped into Newark’s base grant. And schools leaders there have decided that after next year, they’re keeping the money – an amount that could add up to nearly $2 million over four years that financial chiefs from the other four districts believe should be shared.

In a January 17 letter to Vital, Newark Unified’s superintendent, Dave Marken, said that funding for the teacher training and credentialing program no longer exists under the local control funding formula, which is the new state funding scheme.

“Our Board of Education adopted the budget for the 2013-2014 school year, using the guidelines of the LCFF. There was no set aside to pass through our LCFF funds to our partner districts,” he wrote.

Marken said Tuesday that there isn't any BTSA money to give the other districts because the state eliminated the categorical funding stream that supported that. Funding for regional occupation programs - which are also sometimes offered jointly by districts - was kept separate for that specific use for two more years, Marken said.

"The state of California could have chosen to do that. They did not do that," he said.

Marken, who said there are "two very distinct sides" to the story, said that all of the school districts will get more money than they had before under the state's new funding scheme.

In their letter, Alameda schools leaders said that Pleasanton Unified, another district that holds a similar role in distributing funds for group teacher training services, chose to pass money for those services through to other districts Pleasanton is working with despite the funding changes. (Officials with Pleasanton Unified did not return a call seeking to confirm that account.) And they said the agreement signed by all five districts requires Newark to distribute the money equitably.

The Alameda County Office of Education tried to mediate the dispute, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan confirmed Friday – one she said may be playing out among districts across the state that have worked together to provide shared services.

“Quite a number of people are saying they’re going to hold on to the money. Particularly after LCFF,” Jordan said.

Jordan said this isn’t the first time Newark schools leaders have threatened to take away funding for the teacher support program. She said the districts called on her office to mediate a similar dispute a few years ago, when the state allowed school districts to repurpose some “categorical” funding that had been budgeted for specific programs.

“They felt they really needed the money,” Jordan said of Newark Unified.

The California Department of Education considers the funding dispute a local matter, a spokeswoman said last week. But legislators contacted by schools leaders engaged in the dispute confirmed that they’re getting involved.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” said State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, who represents Newark.

In a statement, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, encouraged Newark schools officials to reconsider their decision to keep the money, citing the reasons provided by letters signed by officials in the other four districts. He noted that funding for the teacher support program wasn’t distributed equally to the other districts.

“Therefore, the (Newark Unified School District’s) unwillingness to adhere to the agreement and retain 100 (percent) of the BTSA funds is unacceptable,” Bonta wrote.

Alameda Unified’s chief business officer, Robert Clark, said the decision will cost the district $200,000 next year. Hyman said that running the program on its own could cost the district twice as much – money she doesn’t want Alameda’s classrooms to lose. Clark said that without the program, beginning teachers could be forced pay between $3,000 and $4,000 to clear their teaching credentials.

“This is one of those unexpected consequences of LCFF. No one thought of what would happen in this situation. We didn’t think Newark would keep all the funds,” Clark said. “I would hope that the district would step up and do the right thing and keep distributing those funds, because it really is unfair to the other districts.”