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Mt. Diablo district may seek waiver for Mt. Diablo High state funding

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, December 29th, 2011 at 8:24 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

The same week that teachers at Mt. Diablo High School (MDHS) presented a vote of No Confidence in Principal Kate McClatchy to the school board, district officials realized that they could apply for a state waiver to retain $1.6 million a year in Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) funding for the campus, according to Rose Lock, assistant superintendent of Student Achievement and School Support.

The school and district submitted a report at the end of the 2010-11 year to the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE), which showed that the campus had failed to meet class size reduction requirements. In November, the County Office of Education sent a letter to the district confirming this.

Although both the principal and Lock knew this meant the school would lose its funding starting in 2012-13, McClatchy did not inform teachers about this loss until Dec. 7. They voted No Confidence five days later and presented their vote to trustees Dec. 13.

“As soon as we became aware of the waiver option during the week of December 13, staff kicked into high gear to prepare the waiver request to CDE (California Department of Education),” Lock wrote in an email. “In the process, we discovered some inaccuracies in the 2010-2011 report submitted by MDHS in June. The County Superintendent’s preliminary notification was based on our report. The State’s official notification is expected in February. In the meantime, the District worked with the CCCOE QEIA monitor and NorCal QEIA Technical Assistance to correct the data and have submitted an updated report for MDHS.

Based on the updated report, MDHS met all QEIA targets except for 1 area – ‘Rule of 27′ for six core classes. The waiver request provided compelling reasons why these six classes were above the class size of 27. We are asking for approval by our board…Jan. 9 to submit the waiver request to CDE. A copy of the application will be posted with the agenda.”

When I asked for a copy of the application now (since it is a public record), Lock responded that Lorie O’Brien (who was appointed as Assistant Director of Categoricals and School Support in August) has the final version of the application on her computer and she is on vacation this week.

“We can get a copy to you next Tuesday when she returns or you can certainly request it from CDE sooner,” Lock wrote. “Lorie worked with Peggy Marshburn at the county and Mark Calonico at NorCal QEIA Technical Assistance…”

It’s unclear why Mt. Diablo was in the dark about its ability to apply for a waiver, while many other districts throughout the state prepared waivers for the Jan. 11 state Board of Education meeting. Jennifer Sachs, who monitored Mt. Diablo’s QEIA funding before assuming her position as Director of Categorical Programs for the Pittsburg Unified School District, assisted in preparing a waiver for that district in time for the board’s Dec. 14 meeting.

In contrast, no Mt. Diablo district administrators mentioned the loss of QEIA funding to trustees at their Dec. 13 meeting. Instead, trustees heard about the loss from the MDHS teachers during their vote of No Confidence presentation.

Lock said Mt. Diablo district officials didn’t begin working on a waiver until they learned that other districts were seeking waivers.

“I first heard about Pittsburg from Jennifer Sachs at a County Curriculum Council meeting on Dec. 9,” Lock wrote in an email. “I read an article in the newspaper about the Pittsburg waiver hearing that weekend. When I told Lorie about Pittsburg the following Tuesday, she had just read about the waiver option in an electronic newsletter about categorical programs that she gets from CDE. As you know, CDE has numerous listserves for disseminating information. I can’t tell you how current their lists are. Neither Lorie nor I received any announcement about QEIA waivers. In talking with CDE, Lorie was told that they could do a better job communicating with districts. I am sure this is a result of their budget cuts and large staff turnovers.”

Staff turnovers in the district and County Office of Education could also be playing a role in the apparent confusion about QEIA rules. QEIA funding began in 2008-09, when Mt. Diablo HS had a different principal, the district had a different superintendent and the Student Achievement and School Support division had not yet been created.

On June 22, 2010, the board appointed McClatchy as principal of MDHS. According to Calonico, many high school administrators create their master schedules before the school year ends. This means the master schedule could have already been created when McClatchy assumed her position. If not, she and other administrators would have been scrambling to put it together in July and August for the 2010-11 school year, Calonico said.

Sachs left the district at the end of June, but was not replaced until Aug. 23. Denise Rugani, director of secondary support, left the district in September and has been replaced by an interim director.

Both the county monitor and the county technical advisor have also left their positions. A “QEIA Scale Down” fact sheet posted on the school’s website says the county and district provided close monitoring and guidance to ensure that QEIA requirements were met. So, it is unclear why this monitoring and guidance resulted in failure to meet the requirements.

Teacher Dan Reynolds told me today that the site council approved the waiver application in a 9-0 vote. He said some mistakes were originally made because the school or district didn’t realize they could count certain classes toward their class size reduction requirement, such as Teachers’ Assistant classes.

Gaye Smoot, assistant executive director for California County Superintendents’ Association, said districts have known about the rules since 2007.

“We work with the schools to help them toward achievement of the requirements — making sure they understand the requirements and making sure they do the actual monitoring,” she said. “So, we hope it’s not a surprise at the end of the year.”

Many questions remain. It’s still unclear whether McClatchy and the district intentionally failed to reduce class sizes or didn’t understand the rules. If they didn’t understand, then it’s unclear why the county and Northern California monitoring and guidance didn’t help them figure out the rules.

The biggest questions now, however, are:

– Will the state approve the waiver?

– And if so, will the school and district be able to comply with the requirements to keep the funding this year and beyond?

Reynolds said McClatchy has said in the past that the funding doesn’t really make much of a difference to the school. However, she has not shown specifically what she means by that, he said.

He and other teachers believe the funding helps tremendously because the grant provides smaller classes, which give educators more time with each student. The school’s test scores have increased, Reynolds said.

At the emergency site council meeting last Friday, McClatchy voted along with the rest of the council to approve the waiver, Reynolds said. Although McClatchy left me a voicemail last week while I was on vacation, she has not contacted me this week to discuss the QEIA funding. District schools are on winter break through Jan. 2.

Are you satisfied with the level of accountability and transparency shown by McClatchy and the district regarding the school’s QEIA funding?

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