A complaint filed yesterday on behalf of two Long Beach Unified School District parents alleges that the district has violated state law by misappropriating over $40 million in funds intended for high-need students.
The filing was made by Public Advocates Inc. , a non-profit advocacy group, on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund-California, Latinos in Action and identified two parents of low-income, English learner students, Guadalupe Luna and Marina Roman Sanchez, as the main complainants.
It alleges that LBUSD violated the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), a law enacted in 2013 that replaced the previous K-12 finance system that had been used for about four decades. The LCFF provides base funding to school districts but also doles out supplemental and concentration grants that are intended to be spent on disadvantaged, high-need students.
The complaint states that the district used that money intended for high-need students to pay for common core instructional materials ($17 million), technology infrastructure ($2.5 million) and teacher and staff salary increases and benefits districtwide ($21.4 million). It states that the district is not proving how these expenditures are improving services for high-need students “in proportion to the funds they generate.”
“This bothers me, and makes me very angry,” Luna said in press release put out by Building Healthy Communities Long Beach. “If this money was meant to help high need students, why is it being used this way? This is illegal and needs to be brought to public light. It’s upsetting that in a country like ours injustices like these happen and no one stops them when the law says this is the district’s responsibility. Where is the help?”
Luna and Sanchez have a combined five children enrolled in LBUSD schools.
“These organizations and parents have come forward out of a deep concern that the district is not providing critical services for high-need students,” the complaint read. “In doing so, they are exercising their legal rights under the Education Code to use the UCP process to seek resolution for concerns related to the district Local Control and Accounting Plan, as well as their constitutional rights to free speech.”
In total, the complaint alleges that the district will spend approximately $124 million of funding designated for high-need students over the next three years, the length that LCAPs project out.
The process began in June 2016 when letters from groups representing the two parents were first sent to the district regarding a draft version of the LCAP which cited concerns surrounding the district’s intent to spend supplemental and concentration funding on districtwide actions like common core and teacher’s salaries.
A series of letters followed from both the Public Advocates and the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) asking the district to justify its use of funding in its draft LCAP.
“Over the past two years, the district has received multiple letters warning that it is not meeting its obligations to equitably serve high needs students. Unfortunately, the district has not meaningfully responded,”Angelica Jongco, Public Advocates senior staff attorney, said in a statement. “While we support fair pay for all staff, across-the-board salary and benefits increases like these should be paid out of the district’s base funding for all students—not the limited pool of funds intended to change outcomes for students with greatest need.”
Some amendments were made, including a “nominal” reduction to employee benefits according to the complaint, but the group feels the adopted LCAP voted into action in September did not adequately resolve the issues.
One revision included the addition of a single line of text at the end of an existing paragraph regarding the use of $14.5 million for instruction related services in the district’s LCAP, the complaint alleged.
A separate complaint was filed against the LACOE for approving the district’s LCAP.
Brent North an attorney with North, Nash & Abendroth LLP, the firm that represents LBUSD responded to the initial concerns expressed in June in a six-page letter addressed to Public Advocates where he largely denounced the claims made by the complaintants, defending gaps in planned and actual expenditures, the amount dedicated to teacher salaries and stating that the district’s LCAP exceeds the statutory requirements.
“The concerns expressed in your letter are editorial concerns; i.e., Public Advocates would have drafted differently, described from a different point of view, or would have approached the process differently,” North wrote in the letter dated June 21, 2016.
“The fact that you would have penned it differently is quite natural. It is a universal and predictable experience that each of us walks out of a movie adaptation of a novel wishing that the script writer and director would have captured our vision of the narrative in the way we would have. That natural tendency to editorialize differently is normal, but it doesn’t give rise to a claim nor give grounds to demand a particular revision.”
In a statement, the district’s public information director Chris Eftychiou downplayed the allegations made in the complaint.
“Our school district’s Local Control Accountability Plan meets or exceeds state requirements and the spirit of the law,” Eftychiou said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “The Long Beach Unified School District is one of the most progressive school systems in terms of addressing specific student groups in the plan.”
He added that nearly 70 percent of the district’s students meet one of the population groups specified under the LCFF so the dollars allocated to the school system as a whole addresses those high-need students as well. Eftychiou said the district considers the LCAP to be a “living process” and that it will carefully consider the claims made in the complaint and respond through a formal process.
On teacher salaries, the district contends that teacher retention is a valuable tool that helps build a steady foundation that directly enhances services provided at high-need schools. The district points to schools like Jordan, Jefferson, Dooley and Cabrillo having teachers with average tenures of 18 years helping lay foundations for sustained success at schools with high-need students.
Public Advocates argues that glaring achievement disparities that exist between low-income and middle class students shows that the investment is not translating to success for high-need students.
The complainants are seeking an amendment of the 2016-2017 LCAP and for the district to reallocate the unjustified portions of the millions currently allocated for salaries and benefit obligations, common core materials and technology, with the funds instead going to programming that will better serve the high-need students it was intended for.