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Money to support English learners goes unspent

Roseville high school district taking steps to better serve bilingual students
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The Roseville Joint Union High School District was out of compliance with state mandates when it withheld funds intended to support English language learners and other educationally disadvantaged students, according to its board of trustees.

In a decision released July 11, the board agreed with one of two claims in a complaint filed by the district’s Coordinator of Intervention and Support Ted Herr on April 27. Herr also teaches math at Roseville High School.

Herr declined to comment for this article.

In his complaint, Herr alleges the district “fails to substantively follow legal guidelines for allocating and administering categorical funds, including but not limited to Economic Impact Aid.”

As evidence, he points to plans from the district’s seven high schools that show across the board this money was not correctly allocated.

The high school district has cited miscommunication and a lack of expertise as reasons why the funds have gone unspent.

“It was absolutely our intent to spend it, but we needed a concrete plan,” said Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services Ron Severson.

The district hasn’t spent money provided by the state of California to support educational services for disadvantaged and bilingual students — instead carrying between $20,000 to $60,000 of those funds over from year to year, Severson said. For instance, in the 2009-10 year, that amount totaled $242,109.

“(The) district and school sites have not expended all EIA funds allocated at a time when such funding has increased,” according to the board. “In part, this has occurred because the district has reduced overall staffing and expenditures due to a reduction of general funds, but that is no excuse for not spending available categorical funds.”

The board disagreed with Herr’s second claim that by withholding funds, the district discriminated against and violated the civil rights of students.

Elisa Herrera, coordinator of the Auburn-based Latino Leadership Council, said she is aware of Herr’s complaint.

“(These) students are doubly impacted because first, they haven’t mastered the nuances of the language in which they are learning, and so their subject comprehension is blunted,” Herrera said. “English language funds are meant to temporarily fill the learning gaps of those students so they can learn.”

She said students who fail in the school system are at higher risk for poverty and criminal activity, “which should be a concern for all of us.”

Process broke down

School districts receive state funds for categorical programs, which means the money must go to a specific program and cannot feed the district’s general fund. For Economic Impact Aid, the state allocates funds to districts based on a formula that factors in number of bilingual and low-income students.

Roseville Joint Union High School District received $421,005 for its seven schools for the 2010-11 academic year. Only $181,600 was shown as allocated to school sites.

The district is supposed to inform principals of the money, who then inform the school site council, which reviews and approves the use of funding. The council is expected to involve its school’s English Learner Advisory Committee, according to state education policy.

Funding uses are then detailed in what’s called the Single Plan for Student Achievement, prepared by each school to show strategies for improving pupil achievement.

In the case of the local district, somewhere along the way, the process broke down.

In the 2010-11 plans for Granite Bay High School, Adelante High School, Independence High School, Antelope High School and Woodcreek High School, the spots for Economic Impact Aid allocation were left blank.

Other schools show discrepancies in the amount allocated by the state and the amount reported on the school plans. Oakmont High School’s plan showed $7,500, although that number should have been $100,791. Roseville High School’s plan showed $174,100, instead of $168,401.

In response to Herr’s complaint, Severson launched an investigation in May.

“It was determined that we needed to significantly restructure the processes that support English language learners in the district to ensure we were meeting the requirements (for Economic Impact Aid) funds.” Severson told the Press Tribune. “We also determined that we did not have the expertise within the district to accomplish this task in a timely fashion.”

The district’s report partly blames Herr for the absence of a master plan targeting these students. He serves under Director of Categorical Programs Judy Fischer and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction John Montgomery.

“Both Mr. Montgomery and Ms. Fischer were well aware of the large reserve and both believe they had communicated to Mr. Herr that their expectation was that he would complete a plan that would make use of the funds,” according to the district.

Herr appealed the district’s findings to the board.

Consultant hired

The board determined the district needs to better communicate with principals, site councils and English Language Advisory Committees.

“Several principals, especially those appointed in the past three years, did not understand the processes or the budgets,” according to the board.

As a result, site councils were unaware of the allocated amount for their site.

The district recently hired an English language learner consultant, Dr. Edgar Lampkin from the Yolo County Office of Education, to determine compliance items to be addressed.

“The district has hired additional staff to support this effort,” Severson said. “All sites now have folks on board who are their designated EL specialists.”

These specialists serve as advocates for students to ensure they are tested properly, move along on coursework and get assistance if they’re struggling. Most of the funding has been designated to the schools, Severson said, and the district is developing a comprehensive master plan for English learners.

“We’ve made really great progress and we feel good about where we’re headed to support EL students in our district,” Severson said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.
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2010-11 district allocation of total Economic Impact Aid funds to schools:

Adelante High School: $30,719
Antelope High School: $83,657
Granite Bay High School: $1,774
Independence High School: $32,312
Oakmont High School: $100,791
Roseville High School: $168,401
Woodcreek High School: $3,351

Total EIA allocation from the state: $421,005
Total amount allocated by the district: $181,600
Total amount unspent: $239, 405

Source: California Department of Education