Long Beach Unified School District: June 18, 2015
Garden Grove Unified School District: June 2, 2015
June 18, 2015
This board meeting was the kickoff meeting for summer in LBUSD. Students began their summer vacation the day before, June 17th. The meeting began with the standard Pledge of Allegiance and call to order, where the board members—very astute with the Parliamentary Procedure—proceeded to begin the first item: public hearing. There was no public hearing on this occasion, but the call for agenda items consisted of amending the number of graduates from LB Polytechnic High School (a whopping 1,019 students from Poly alone, with a total of over 5,900 graduates in LBUSD this year!). The board then quickly approved the minutes, and then began the communications part of the meeting. In doing so, the board recognized some decorated retirees from LBUSD. It was amazing to hear about the length and diversified service that each employee contributed to the district. Even our own Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB) president, and LBUSD teacher, Virginia Torres retired after 34.5 years of dedicated service. Everyone present felt the warmth of those recognized. My great mentor and colleague, Anita Rockwell, who retired this year from Avalon, was also supposed to be recognized but may wait until the July board meeting. The second part of communications was the recognition of the Long Beach NAACP ACT-SO Program, where six high school students were present and recognized for their accomplishments in a particular discipline (which ranged from the arts to sciences); they’ll travel to Philadelphia next month to compete on the national level in their particular discipline. It was great to hear the board members speak on behalf of the program and its success over the years.
The meeting then transitioned to public testimony of items not listed on the agenda, and this got interesting. The first was a special education teacher who spoke on behalf of her school community regarding the access to IEP features that have been minimized on our district’s Synergy computer system (the new database we use for attendance and making notations of student information, where IEPs are also visible for students who have one). I think it might have been more appropriate for her to have called our tech support through her school administration, as we at Avalon seem to get great feedback when seeking help this way.
Then a parent stood up to speak about her daughter being a newcomer to the district and her possible denial of access to an accelerated program through her neighborhood school. It was obvious the mother was trying her best to be diplomatic with the school board, but was a bit aggressive in her tone. She commended the district for its structure, but then threatened to return if policies regarding new students in the district don’t change. I have seen a lot of consistencies with the demeanors of those making complaints to school boards. Most of the public testimonies seem to do with protecting the rights of the students, and are not always presented in a professional manner.
Following public testimony was business items (action items). It was amazing to hear the number of personnel mentioned due to the vast number of certificated and classified employees in our district (also 11 pages in the agenda!). The board quickly moved to approve these action items (personnel, instruction, finance report, business department report, purchasing and contract report), which are all shown in detail in the agenda. The instruction action item ranged from approving the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) for 2015-16 (which we use significantly in our WASC critical learning goals/action plan) to adopting the AP World History textbook.
The last three action items for business that were quickly approved were the finance report, business department report, as well as the purchasing and contract report. All three of these items were created, scrutinized (and ratified), then initially approved by Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser and Yumi Takahashi, our district’s Chief Business and Financial Officer (as noted at the bottom of each report).
The finance report is astounding. Beginning on page 18 of the agenda, almost $73,000,000 was issued for salary and a variety of other warrants in our district. Then the business department report listed over $115,000 in gift money, which was noted for multiple schools, followed by a lengthy list of authorities for the district CBO to accept or reject claims (such as the authority to authorize routine budget revisions, adjustments and transfers). The list was very thorough and impressive. The list of purchases and contracts showed project contractors that ranged from site geologists to human resource contractors. There were a total of 48 detailed items on that report, alone. I work in a massive school district that represents thousands of students and partnerships, so it’s no wonder there were so many details in this report.
One thing that stood out to me in the approval of these financial reports was a question for our CBO, Yumi Takahashi. One of the board members asked what type of equipment is disposed of, and Yumi responded, “Very old items that no longer have a useful life,” which includes computers. There must be some way for our large school district to dispose of such items, rather than have them simply sit in a warehouse for a few more years. The parts alone could be sold and that money could be used to buy other equipment. Or those old computer parts can be used to teach an elective course on computer components, as many of the components still function and are educational. Another board member noted the generous donations that are received this time of year, including 80 iPad Air tablets (pg. 20, item 6)! I want to quickly create my proposal to show evidence of such technology implementation in the classrooms, which “disrupts” our student learning in a good way. I hope I can create a sound budget and proposal/argument that can gain support for my proposal. And not just for my students, but district-wide. I even went as far as to contact someone I know who works alongside Yumi, our CBO, to see if there’s a chance I could present my proposal at the July board meeting.
Superintendent Steinhauser, who is very proactive with students and staff across all sites in our district, then gave his report. Sadly, two students were expelled (which is a very low number, given the population of LBUSD), but it was also great to see new principals be assigned throughout the district. Two of these principals were friends, so it gives me hope when (or if) I decide to be principal one day (since I know many great administrators within our district).
And the part of the meeting that pertained to our course most was proposed budget and the LCAP goals for 2015-16. I liked how the board thanked the School Site Councils for their input for money expenditures for 2015-16. This shows that it was a true collaboration of input, and that was echoed by Steinhauser’s comments that the budget is readily readjusted, with input from stakeholders, as changes in need and expenditures occur throughout the year. General details regarding the budget are listed in the agenda, but the thorough report is listed on the LBUSD website. One interesting note that Superintendent Steinhauser made while the board approved items is that title-1 funding is decreasing each year due to the increase in low-income students across the nation (the funds are being depleted rapidly). Another note is that the remaining 14 schools in our district that are not yet year-round schools are given a one-time grant to convert to that system, which is being pushed to happen. Lastly, I liked that Steinhauser was authentic enough to acknowledge how strenuous the state pushed for verification that CCSS-related funds (a total of $16.4 million) were correctly utilized. He mentioned the textbooks cost close to $7 million, the PD was over $1 million, and the remaining $8 million went toward the computer-adaptive labs across the district. Lots of accountability, and it shows.
Overall, the LBUSD school board is genuine, and I’m proud to be an employee under their leadership. They are open, transparent, honest, and I think they truly care about all stakeholders. I truly appreciate their professionalism and ability to acknowledge business items, as well as celebrations. I hope to one day be a member of this school board, as I’m inspired to be in a leadership role.
Garden Grove Unified School District Board Meeting:
June 2, 2015
The Garden Grove began the same way the LBUSD meeting started, with the Pledge of Allegiance and approval of the minutes. The board decided to change the agenda items a bit, and it seemed more relaxed than the LBUSD setting. Some students were recognized as Simon’s scholars for the district, which is a positive note. Following those recognitions, the board opened the floor for public comments, and there were many more than there were at the LBUSD meeting (partly due to the fact that school was still in session, I think).
One of the public comments was a follow-up of a previous board meeting I listened to with this school district (May 19th). This speaker followed up with his complaint regarding the opt-out process for the SBAC-testing for Common Core. He seemed aggressive at the last meeting, and this time was on the defensive. I think he initially let his emotion get the best of him when addressing the board and made personal allegations toward the superintendent. Another public comment was a student vouching for his school teacher-librarian to be reinstated, as she has had an invaluable impact on the school’s culture. It was heartwarming.
The board then closed the public hearing, but it didn’t seem that the Parliamentary Procedure was being adhered to in the same manner as the LBUSD board meeting. Just the sound of the gavel was heard during the public hearing, which included an opportunity for the public to address the LCAP goals for the 2015-16 school year. Mr. McAmis, the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools, who was also speaker for the board, transitioned to the DROPS Grant introduction.
The DROPS grant, which provides $2 million to select Garden Grove schools to help replace lawns with turf and other drought-friendly items, was approved by the board. A few board members discussed the fact that Garden Grove Unified maximized their grant opportunity, but wanted to continue to expand this type of opportunity in future years for all schools in the district. They even joked that it is a major accomplishment to receive a $2 million grant, as LAUSD only received $5 million, and it is a much larger district.
After listening to this recorded meeting, I realized how much shorter the agenda items were, as well as how quickly the board moved through the items. Following the public hearings and the announcement of DROPS, the board quickly approved items for administration, programs, business items, and personnel. There were hardly any business items noted, and the board even acknowledged it was probably the shortest business items list they’ve had. Following those approval items and discussions, the board meeting came to a close (the meeting lasted about an hour).
To be honest, I was disappointed the GGUSD board didn’t provide as much detail regarding its budget or LCAP goals at this meeting, or even direct access to each. If you look at their June 2 minutes, LCAP goals are briefly mentioned, but not emphasized. Because I almost worked for this district, I’m so glad I chose LBUSD over it, as I feel LBUSD—maybe due to its great size and revenue—has more competent people representing its schools and students.