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K-12 education

Oakland school district mishandled federal money, state finds

The Oakland Unified School District failed to follow federal regulations in doling out taxpayer money to benefit local private schools and must pay some of it back, a state review has found.

The state Department of Education cited Oakland Unified for not meeting federal requirements in its distribution of federal Title I and Title II money to provide teacher training and tutoring for struggling students at private schools. Private schools are entitled to a share of federal money, but public school districts are responsible for maintaining control of the funds.

The state found that Oakland Unified paid instructors who were not independent of their private schools, shipped materials directly to the private schools without taking an inventory and let private schools design their own taxpayer-funded programs.

State officials expedited the review, originally planned for January, after California Watch reported that the district had paid officials at St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church’s private school based on padded enrollment numbers. The West Oakland K-12 school also has come under fire for making its students solicit money at BART stations and for the alleged physical abuse of students, which the school has denied.

Oakland Unified is asking for more time to resolve the state's findings of noncompliance, said spokesman Troy Flint.

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State schools chief lays out 'blueprint' for K-12

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said yesterday that California can become more competitive and stop a future shortage in college-trained professionals by simply investing more to improve the public school system.

Torlakson cited findings from "A Blueprint for Great Schools," a 31-page report with a myriad of long-term and short-term recommendations to improve California's public school system.

It was prepared by Torlakson’s Transition Advisory Team, a 59-member group of key teachers, parents, administrators and labor and business leaders that Torlakson assembled to help identify areas that are vexing to the state's K-12 system.

Surrounded by many of the team members yesterday at the Department of Education, Torlakson pledged to working closely with the governor's office and Legislature to implement the report's suggestions, including those deemed politically difficult or economically challenging.

“We are setting our sights high because our students deserve it,” Torlakson said. “As our 'Blueprint for Great Schools' shows, there’s no substitute for investing in our children’s education. But we owe our students much more than just money. We also owe them our leadership, our best thinking and, above all, our very best people.”

The study argues that teachers are singularly important to improving student outcomes and calls for a new statewide commission to study and design ways to improve teacher quality. Other recommendations in the document include:

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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Education cuts could shorten school year

The budget Gov. Jerry Brown signed last week is based on optimistic revenue projections and contained a last-minute education bill [PDF] that grants protections for teachers.

But if the anticipated revenue doesn't come in, school districts face up to $1.75 billion in cuts at the end of the year. The budget deal allows districts to shorten their school years by seven days to cut costs, but they would need union approval to reduce teacher salaries accordingly.

The budget triggers funding cuts if the anticipated revenue isn’t raised by Dec. 15. The budget assumes the state will bring in up to $4 billion in the coming months. However, if the state can't come up with at least $3 billion, the budget triggers initial cuts up to $600 million. If less than $2 billion comes in, up to $1.9 billion would be cut in K-12 and community college funding.

 

Allowing districts to shorten the school year would save approximately $1.5 billion. But the education bill signed into law as part of the state budget would not suspend collective bargaining agreements, and it prevents teacher layoffs during the next fiscal year. So if districts want to shorten the school year, they would need teachers unions to accept the pay cuts needed to shave off the days.

“We have nothing to bargain with,” said William Habermehl, superintendent of Orange County schools. “Bargaining is a give-and-take proposition. What do we have to bargain with? 'Trigger' is right. It’s putting a gun to our head.”

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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