Background

In trying to understand the role of the LCFF as a catalyst for PBIS, MTSS, and teacher-led professional learning, this study found that these efforts grew out of a complex landscape. Two key underlying factors that initially fueled change in PUSD were (1) receiving a “Significant Disproportionality” label by the state in 2012 and (2) how LCFF was interpreted and implemented as part of a strategy for equity.

From Significant Disproportionality to a Commitment to Equity

In 2012, PUSD was identified as having “Significant Disproportionality” for the “over-identification of African American students for Special Education and related services in the area of emotional disturbance” by the California Department of Education. PUSD was required to set aside $709,220 for comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS).1 At the time, the district had to make a choice, as stated by Dr. Kathrine Morillo-Shone, Director of Equity and Professional Learning, “between allowing this label to define us and to bring us down, or to re-frame it as an opportunity to begin to do the equity work and to embrace the whole-child approach that we knew was necessary from a long time ago. The choice was clear for us.” Dr. Morillo-Shone was initially appointed as the Director for Equity and Significant Disproportionality, a position that has evolved to encompass a broader vision that today connects Equity and Professional Learning; both of which are pivotal for this case study.

When LCFF was signed into law in 2013, PUSD was among many school districts unsure about the law. As explained by Lilia Fuentes, Interim Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, “When LCFF came, it was very vague, came with very little directives.” The law was passed in the midst of many factors: the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, a new post-No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability system, and a challenging district fiscal situation made more challenging by declining enrollment.

Richard Martinez, the district’s superintendent, shared, “The law in itself was a good idea. The problem was that as they passed the law, schools began to implement the law, and then the regulations came after the fact. We at the time created a strategy and made decisions, and the struggle became that you’ve started programs and you’re trying to think, how do we meet the regulations that came out years later.” The timing of LCFF presented its own challenges, as the district was trying to bounce back from the Great Recession.

We were just coming out of the Great Recession and then to bring back programs was tempting, necessary, and we did. Initially we brought back old stuff instead of really taking a look at redesigning what we were doing. It was really trying to stay true…trying to repair what had happened over six years…we’d laid off, I don’t know, around six hundred people. At the same time, there was also promise and excitement when it came to the whole notion of us guiding our future and directing locally.

Richard Martinez, Superintendent

LCFF was initially interpreted by many, including PUSD, as a back-to-the-“full funding” days—channeling significant funds to restoring rather than innovating. This mirrored similar trends across the state, where many districts chose investing in specific programs for the populations targeted by LCFF or restoring programs or positions that had been lost during the budget cuts.2 Additionally, as Stephanie Baker, former Deputy Superintendent, explained, “You had politicians saying that we were going to put districts back to where we were 10, 11, years ago. Well, 10 or 11 years ago we had 10,000 more students than we do now, so you had a push to restore, and on the other hand to innovate and be creative, when the context was entirely different.”

As time passed and more explicit guidelines began to emerge from both the state and the county, the conversations among senior leadership at the district level began to change. District leadership began to have what Superintendent Martinez called “powerful and difficult conversations that were infused with a notion of flexibility and empowerment, and yet had an explicit accountability to make sure what we planned supported the groups of students targeted by LCFF.”

Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF):
Superintendent Richard Martinez discusses how LCFF has changed decision making in Pomona Unified School District.

Decline in Funding

In 2007, a fiscal review conducted by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), found that “once a growing district, Pomona Unified has experienced a significant decline in student enrollment that began in 2003–04.”3 By 2007, in an effort to maintain fiscal solvency, the district had already reduced spending by 30 million dollars. In 2007, the district served a student population of approximately 31,779 in 28 elementary schools, six middle schools, four comprehensive high schools, one continuation school, one community day school and two alternative schools. Since 2007, the student body has continued to shrink (currently at 24,000), compounding an already complicated fiscal context due to educational funding cuts across the state.

Senior leadership, in an effort to maintain a balanced budget despite declining student enrollment, began multiple initiatives to assess and reflect upon their spending. As shared by Stephanie Baker, “It was an opportunity to look at and unpack how we were going about spending money, our awareness of how much money we were spending, and utilized cost analysis tools.” She later added that this process “fit perfectly with LCFF, especially as we thought about how we explicitly spent money on certain groups of students like English Learners and special education students.”

In 2015, with the support of the board, the district embarked on a comprehensive process of self-reflection, analysis, and strategic planning, resulting in the Promise of Excellence Strategic Plan 2015-2020. Concurrently, PUSD used both the Smarter School Spending tools, designed to help districts align resources (people, time, and money) with instructional priorities for improving student achievement,4 and Improvement Science, which has been described as a set of tools to reduce the gap between what is actual and what is possible5 and the disciplined use of evidence-based methods to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of processes and systems.6 This process was centered on outcomes for students with a particular focus on students with the highest needs.

Zoila Savaglio, Director of State and Federal Programs, is often quoted by others at the District Office for routinely asking, “How does that action directly increase and/or improve services for English Learners, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and/or homeless youth?” This question is now seen not only as a powerful driver to how the district thinks about making decisions but also, as explained by Stephanie Baker, as a crucial part of how to create systems alignment around key district goals. While research shows that the allocation of resources to the students with the greatest needs is necessitated to close achievement gaps,7 isolated programs and packages, if disconnected from a comprehensive strategy, fail to achieve the necessary results and to close learning gaps. For PUSD, with a long history of “programs and packages,” this insight has been crucial in their LCFF implementation. Consequently, when planning for initiatives like PBIS8 and teacher-led professional learning,9,10 district leaders endeavored to ensure that different programs were coherent and worked in alignment towards shared goals.

Lastly, district leadership in PUSD also understood that Pomona was what many often refer to as “a tale of two cities.” With seven of PUSD’s schools being non-Title 1 and the other 34 being Title 1, PUSD saw in LCFF the flexibility to think more broadly about how to support their students across all 41 schools. Previously, non-Title 1 schools lacked specific funding to support their students with the highest needs. With LCFF, these funds “follow” the populations targeted for support, presenting both possibilities and challenges to non-Title 1 schools.

Figure 1:
A Tale of Two Cities: Income Disparity in PUSD

References:

  1. The Advocacy Institute (March 2016). Maintenance of effort reduction and coordinated early intervening services 2012–2013. Retrieved from http://ideamoneywatch.com/docs/MandatoryCEIS2012-2013.pdf.
  2. Humphrey, D. C., and Koppich, J. E. (October 2014). Toward a Grand Vision: Early Implementation of California’s Local Control Funding Formula. San Francisco, CA: J. Koppich & Associates.
  3. Dean, B., Haywood, L., Branham, D., & Rosales, M. (March 2007). California Pomona Unified School District fiscal review. Financial Crisis and Management Assistance Team. Pomona, CA: Author.
  4. Government Finance Officers Association (2019). Smarter School Spending Schools. Retrieved from: https://smarterschoolspending.org/.
  5. Health Foundation (2011). Report: Improvement science. London, UK.
  6. Park, S., Hironaka, S., Carver, P., & Nordstrum, L. (2013). Continuous improvement in Education. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning.
  7. Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College Press.
  8. PBIS Implementation Blueprint (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.pbis.org/blueprint/implementation-blueprint.
  9. Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2013). With an Investment in Collaboration, Teachers Become Nation Builders, 34(3), 4. Journal of Staff Development.
  10. Berry, B., & Farris-Berg, K. (2016). Leadership for Teaching and Learning, How Teacher Powered Schools Work and Why They Matter, 8. American Educator. Retrieved from: https://www.aft.org/ae/summer2016/berry_farris-berg.