“The reasoning I was given had to do with funding for the "New Schools". I was told (today) that New School budgets were not factored into the general funding equation beforehand . . .”
A Message to the Westchester High School Community from Principal Bruce L. Mims
Sent by e-mail Tuesday Sept. 8, 2009
Good Evening Members of the Westchester High School Community:
On the eve of welcoming in a new school year filled with such promise, I must also inform you that I have brought an ongoing and evolving situation to the attention of our Governance Council--one that is currently poised to have a detrimental impact on the health, safety, and security of our greater school-wide learning community as a whole.
Despite our enduring persistence and our collective endeavor to weather the (many) maelstroms, and collaborate in an effort to bring the school to a threshold where sound data-driven decisions can be advanced and implemented, we are faced with a serious dilemma that pertains to Per Pupil Funding. On one hand, Per Pupil Funding (PPF) in general is an empowering opportunity for school sites and stakeholders to take collective responsibility for discretionary allocations that have a direct impact on the school-wide learning community in general, because it truly puts the power and responsibility for data-driven decisions in the hands of entities on the campus who will ultimately assume accountability for the outcome(s) of those decisions. On the other hand, however, it can also put a low-performing underachieving school in further peril, if certain components of the PPF equation are also not in sync as it relates to the campus-e.g., ADA, the total number of students enrolled, amount of PPF allotment (i.e., in this case $911.00 allotment per student).
Frankly, our unique situation here at Westchester High School put us in an extremely precarious (if not "no-win") situation right now, whether we went forward with our participation in PPF or elected to "opt-out" and remain with norm-based funding. On one hand, our ADA was woefully low, which basically cost us approximately $127,000.00; nevertheless, in the long run, we all saw the "silver lining" down-the-road for us as it relates to increasing our ADA by decreasing our chronic truancy and dropout rates, and generally focusing our efforts on making data-driven decisions. On the other hand, however, if we decided to stay with norm-based funding, we faced the possibility of losing additional clerical staff, an administrator, an counseling positions, and building and grounds positions as well.
Given that we only received a 40 percent threshold allotment of Title I funding-as well as the fact we were (re) entering Program Improvement (Year I), we had little choice but to try and keep our "cuts" as far away from the classroom as possible, while aligning our decisions and resources with our (old) Single Plan for Student Achievement-while creating justifications that were aligned with the current data as evidenced by their learning outcomes (e.g., CST results, CAHSEE pass rate, ADA, and dropout rate). In short, any decision we made here at the site would involve entail reverberating consequences. Nevertheless, our dialogue and discussions in the School Site Council meetings we attained discretionary and categorical allocations that were appropriately aligned with student-based needs-relative to their learning outcomes and Program Improvement.
Needless to say, additional central office mandated reductions to buildings and grounds personnel, and now their most-recent decision to reduce our campus safety Officers by 1 position have made our PPF decisions reverberate even more as it relates to our staffing; whereas, the actual building and grounds (norm-based) reductions nearly doubled the projected reductions when we finalized our PPF budget. Meanwhile, we made PPF allocations to retain our current campus safety positions based upon projected norms and giving consideration to our site-based needs. However, I received notification from Local District 3 last Friday afternoon we will be losing another full-time campus safety position (reducing our norm positions to 2). The reasoning I was given had to do with funding for the "New Schools". I was told (today) that New School budgets were not factored into the general funding equation beforehand; therefore, additional district-wide reductions were necessary to fund the New School needs, one of them being campus safety; and, therefore, we would be losing an additional campus safety position--regardless of the fact we had already finalized our site-based allocations based upon the staffing levels we reasonably anticipated we would have at our disposal (while the New School budget dilemma was unbeknownst to us or any other school-wide community).
Unfortunately the 2 current situations have put us in a quandary we can neither ignore nor delay; and, although the District has heaped the responsibility for funding critical support areas upon the school, we unfortunately have extremely limited resources within the context of PPF, and very restrictive guidelines for allocation of Title I funds. Thus, we are faced with a difficult dilemma relative to PPF that compels us to collaborate and revisit our original allocations at this critical crossroads in our endeavor to improve student programs and learning outcomes. Moreover, our Governance Council must now come together very shortly and collectively make some tough decisions: how do we reduce services that directly affect students and their learning outcomes, such as administrative leadership, counseling staff, clerical support, library coverage (i.e., domains that fall under the scope of PPF) to provide20for an additional campus safety and building and grounds personnel? Or do we leave our allocations as is and try to do the best we can, with what we have, where we are right now and try to lobby for additional support or relief, given the uncontrollable events that have transpired that detrimentally affect our school-wide community?
In retrospect, we earnestly devoted our PPF and our (40 percent threshold) Title I monies just to acquire the student-based services and personnel essential to directly address the outcomes that resulted in our Program Improvement status, while stabilizing the existing services and essential personnel-that would have been decimated or relatively impossible to sustain through norm-based funding. Interestingly, 2 of our personnel were acquired through Title I funding (i.e., PSA and DPA counselors) to address our Dropout and Truancy issues conveyed to me directly by the Superintendent in a letter, dated June 12, 2009 (CCd to the Board of Education, James Morris, Dr. Elliot, and Mr. Del Cueto). In that letter, he conveyed to me his expectation of decreasing our dropout rate by 5 percent during the 2009-2010 school year. Overall, I believe we, as a collective group, endeavored to make the best possible (student) outcomes and needs-based budgetary decisions possible-given the realities and constraints of every hand that has been dealt to us.
As for the implications of our decisions relative to Per Pupil Funding, I would be remiss if I did not highlight the fact that ALL would have been solved if we would have received more than a mere 14 percent of the total monies allotted per pupil (i.e., approx $6,200.00); whereas, an additional $150.00 PPF allotment (in addition to the $911.00 we actually received in the current PPF formula ) would be the difference between adequate campus safety AND building and grounds staffing -taking total reduction in force into consideration as well-and the inadequacies we currently face in those 2 critical areas--among others.
Indeed, we are trying to make the best of this situation; I know the Superintendent and others want us to be successful in our efforts to improve instruction and outcomes for all our students. However, converging factors beyond our direct control make our challenges as it pertains to campus safety, building and grounds, and other critical support areas relative to our campus seemingly insurmountable; and, we are in need of more support than we can afford without directly (and detrimentally) affecting students and the classrooms-as it pertains to their learning outcomes. In summation, I have endeavored, as the Superintendent has stated himself, to facilitate the process of keeping our current financial situation (i.e., "cuts") as far away from students and their classrooms as humanly, economically, and realistically possible.
I sincerely regret having to convey this news to the Governance Council, or members of our greater school-wide learning community and stakeholders at the start of what promises to be a "breakout" year for us at Westchester High School. Nevertheless, I am confident that our earnest dialogue, collective efforts, and collaboration will elicit a solution to this situation that will reflect what is in the best interests of our students; as well, as our entire school-wide learning community as a whole.
Bruce L. Mims, Ed.D.
Principal, Westchester High School
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT