Tomorrow night (Tues. Sept. 22) is the second regularly scheduled public meeting of the full Board for the month, so I spent much of the afternoon combing through the agenda. The Superintendent and staff like Board members to try and get specific questions in ahead of the actual meeting, so that they have time to answer them and resolve any issues before the actual meeting. No one is happy — Board members or staff — when questions asked at the public meeting can’t be answered because no one is prepared.
I have a number of consent calendar items I’ve already indicated I’ll be pulling tomorrow night–either because I think they need some Board discussion, or because I plan to vote against them, or because I need the staff to answer some questions before I decide how to vote. On occasion, I pull something for discussion not because I am unsure of how I’ll ultimately vote, but because I want members of the public to hear the staff’s explanation of the item.
It’s also important for members of the public to know that you have the power to pull an item for discussion at the meeting, even if no Board member severs it for discussion. You simply come to the meeting, fill out a speaker card indicating that you want to give comment on a particular item, and when the item comes up you will have the opportunity to make comment on that item (the amount of time is at the discretion of the chair). Democracy at work!
One of the things I’m looking at for tomorrow night are a group of contracts having to do with a requirement under NCLB that school districts provide Supplemental Educational Services (mostly tutoring) to students who are enrolled at Title I schools (specifically, those Title I schools that have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress three years in a row). The resolutions funding SES services for our students appear on pages 220-291 of tomorrow’s agenda (resolutions K72 – K107), and represent $1,200 per eligible student, or over $1.3 million in services being offered to over 1,100 students.
Questions always come up about this money — why is it so much, why does it go to nonprofit or for-profit tutoring services that the district has no control over, and why can’t we use it to improve our overall instructional program at Title I schools? I’ve been told that we’re prohibited under Federal law from using that money for any other purpose, and from telling parents what tutoring services they can and can’t choose. We’re required to offer the service, and give parents at eligible schools a list of eligible tutoring services (eligibility is determined by the California Department of Education) in our area. I’m not sure I love this level of regulation or restriction–nor the fact that the tutoring services themselves have very little oversight — but in theory the restrictions exist so that a failing system can’t just suck up the additional tutoring money and offer no additional benefit to students.
The question that most interests me, however, is whether parents at Title I schools whose children are identified for special education can access these services. The question first came up a year or two ago, when one of the tutoring services was Lindamood-Bell, one methodology that has been very successful with students with learning differences. I haven’t been able to find any specific prohibition on special education students being able to access the tutoring services, but I’m not sure parents are aware or being told that there are additional services their child might be able to receive. And I need to better understand how students are eligible for SES services in the first place. So those are among the questions I’ve asked ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.