School board to reconsider innovative school proposals

School board to reconsider innovative school proposals

Michele Ellson

Schools leaders said Tuesday that they’ll reconsider a proposal to slash funding requests for a pair of innovative school plans that have been in the works for the past 18 months.

Superintendent Sean McPhetridge asked the Board of Education to table their planned consideration of innovative school proposals for Franklin and Henry Haight elementary schools following impassioned pleas from educators and parents for full funding of the plans.

“What I so appreciate is that staff and leaders and family members have come out over and over again to say, ‘No, we really mean it. This is what we want to do,’” McPhetridge said. “What I hear from staff and administrators is, without the coaching, this is not good.”

District staffers recommended approving the three-year plans without funding for coaches to help implement them. Funding for the part-time coaches makes up much of the cost of the proposals.

Haight is proposing a program that would offer hands-on, project-based science, technology, engineering and math learning coupled with behavioral supports, while Franklin’s blended learning plan would incorporate online learning into traditional brick-and-mortar schooling with a focus on science. Haight is seeking $227,300 for three years, while Franklin has asked for $123,523.

“A number of us envisioned this as a laboratory for the district, a small start of what appears to be a part of the future,” parent John Baum said of the Franklin proposal.

Proponents of Franklin’s plan said the school is ready to move forward with or without financial support from the district, while backers of Haight’s plan said the coaching is a critical component of its success. Even Assistant Superintendent Barbara Adams, who wrote the recommendation to approve limited funding on an annual basis rather than full funding for three years, offered strong support for the original plans as proposed.

“Coaching is not a ‘nice-to-have.’ It’s a ‘need-to-have,’” Haight principal Tracey Lewis said. “To take the coaching out … we’re not really setting ourselves up for success.”

The proposals are coming to the board as it once again confronts a decision about the sustainability of special educational programs at schools. Earlier Tuesday night, McPhetridge cautioned that the district, which stable financially now, could face budget cuts of $3.9 million in three years based on its current financial assumptions.

The district’s 2010 master plan included innovative school programs as a means of attracting and retaining families who were choosing private and charter schools over the district’s. The Measure A school parcel tax funds planning for the programs, but doesn’t contain any money for implementation of the programs once they’re approved.

In 2012, the school board okayed innovative programs at Bay Farm School and Amelia Earhart Elementary; the district also operates magnet programs at Encinal High School, Will C. Wood Middle School and Maya Lin School. Last year, the district invited other schools to proposed new magnet and innovative programs.

Board president Barbara Kahn noted that the Maya Lin arts magnet was okayed in order to keep the school in the district; it could have been closed for low test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law. But others questioned whether it was fair for the district to fund programs at two of the district’s wealthiest and high-performing schools while Haight, a Title I school serving a high number of disadvantaged students, faced the prospect of a minimally funded plan.

Haight reading teacher Kathleen Collins said that only 60 percent of the school’s students are testing proficient in science, while 88 percent of the students at Earhart, which she said gets $127,000 in district funding for its program, are proficient. That’s a point that resonated with board member Solana Henneberry.

“Earhart is getting a lot of money for their students – and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t,” Henneberry said. “They have students that perform better, and we are not supporting students that are most vulnerable. And that’s not supporting the mission of our district.”

The board is slated to take up the proposed innovative school programs on June 23.

In other news, the board considered a $78.5 million budget for the 2015-16 school year. The board is expected to approve the budget on June 23.

The proposed budget includes $3.2 million for new textbooks, $1.4 million more for special education staff and transportation costs, $300,000 more for maintenance and money for salary increases. In the May revision of his budget proposal for next year, Governor Jerry Brown is seeking $2.4 billion in one-time funds for K-12 schools, which would give Alameda Unified $5.4 million that staffers propose using to pay for the books and other services.

Some $11.1 million in district funding is coming from the Proposition 30 temporary state income and sales tax, all of which is proposed to be used to fund teacher salaries and benefits. Those tax increases will sunset in 2016 and 2018.

Another $12 million comes from Alameda’s Measure A parcel tax, which sunsets after the 2017-18 school year.

The board also voted unanimously to appoint a new school board member to fill Nielsen Tam’s unexpired term and also, to appoint a two-member board subcommittee to direct the appointment process.

A new board member must be appointed by July 24. A timeline and process for applications and selection of a board member will be announced on June 23.

The board’s options included appointing a new member or holding a special election, which would take place November 2. The election was projected to cost between $12 and $15 per voter for a live election and $7 to $9 per voter for a mail-in ballot.

The new member will fill the remainder of Tam’s term, which extends to December 2016. Tam died on May 24, after battling leukemia.

Board members picked Kahn and member Philip Hu to comprise the subcommittee.

In other schools news, the district and its office workers and paraprofessionals have reached a tentative contract accord. The proposed three-year agreement between the district and members of California School Employees Association Local 27 offers those workers an ongoing 5 percent raise starting next school year and a one-time $300 bonus.

The proposed agreement, which hasn’t yet been released, includes updated evaluation forms and a clarified wellness policy. A handful of articles, including salary, could be reopened by the union in 2017-18.

The tentative agreement still requires approval from union members and the board. The tentative accord was negotiated over four bargaining sessions, which began in April.