THE BLOG
06/21/2013 08:30 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2013

Liberating LAUSD's Schools From Budget Cuts and Micromanagement

In a heated and long meeting, Los Angeles School Board Members debated and deliberated on how the nation's second largest school district should spend additional revenue coming down from Governor Brown's Local Fair Funding Formula. Amid this debate, we cannot forget to consider the obvious goal for local fair funding -- making local school decisions about how to invest in local school goals.

Last week, E4E-LA members released a policy toolkit for recruiting and retaining great talent in LAUSD. At the heart of their recommendations, compiled in two separate policy papers, are the following strategies: empowering principals and educators with more autonomy over staffing; leadership and coaching opportunities for excellent teachers; student-focused professional development designed at the school site; direct investment in community engagement; and financial incentives to attract and keep teachers making progress with their students (based on a multi-measured evaluation system) in hard-to-staff schools.

Throughout, the teachers behind these papers found bold and creative ways of putting the autonomy and responsibility in the hands of our most effective school leaders and teachers. After all, unshackling these schools from some top-down micromanagement has opened the floodgates for bold, new ideas that are raising achievement in LAUSD. This same principle should apply to the way the LA School Board decides to allocate additional revenues from Sacramento through a funding formula that asks districts to do two main things -- ensure the dollars follow children and more dollars follow children with the greatest needs.

In response, LAUSD school board members have offered competing resolutions for how to best spend this additional revenue, passing one and postponing another. Amid this healthy debate, we want to remind stakeholders to stay true to LAUSD's movement to localize school control and Governor Brown's mandate to invest dollars directly in students, particularly those with the greatest needs.

Our board can meet these two priorities by marrying ideas in both resolutions. We applaud School Board Member Galatzan, whose resolution was postponed, for asking our district to create options and parameters to ensure that the additional dollars follow the students of greatest need. We also applaud School Board Members Kayser, Zimmer and Vladovic, whose resolution was passed, for urging our district to address the impact budget cuts have had on increased class sizes. But, to be frank, not all of the ideas in the resolutions are realistic or responsive to the individual needs of each school. Moving forward, LAUSD must unite the best parts of these ideas and continue moving our district closer to local control and clear accountability.

E4E-LA members firmly believe that local school communities should decide how to use their budgets to help meet student needs as they pertain to class size, staffing and instruction. The leaders and teachers running individual schools need to assess their needs, assets and plans for moving student achievement. As we have seen, no one size, number or approach will work for every school and the last thing we need is more micromanagement of these long-awaited school dollars.

We had the privilege of listening to the teachers and leaders at our schools by holding focus groups at 40 LAUSD schools that made significant gains in student achievement. We learned that the strategies these schools employed were tailored to the specific needs and strengths of their school communities. With additional dollars, these schools can begin investing in these school-specific and research-based strategies for raising student achievement.

For instance, one E4E Member's school would like to use additional dollars to reduce class sizes specifically in math, where his school has the greatest gaps in achievement. Another E4E Member's school would like to hire a social worker to work directly with students and families. Another E4E Member's school would use the money to invest in technology tools to differentiate learning for special education students.

We're not suggesting giving schools a blank check to invest in untested strategies. Our district should offer clear guidelines and options, while encouraging schools to think about how these dollars can be used to invest in specific strategies and plans for accelerating achievement, particularly among the students with the greatest needs. With control and flexibility comes accountability for ensuring the dollars and strategies are indeed advancing measurable gains toward closing the achievement gap.

Let's be clear, the burgeoning movement for more local engagement and control in LAUSD has not merely been the product of power sharing between our district and union. It's been a bottom-up movement of teachers and parents demanding a bigger voice in determining the fate of their children, classrooms and careers. These teachers aren't waiting to be engaged in reform. They are assuming their rightful positions as teachers leading from within our classrooms. They look forward to continuing the conversation about how additional revenue can give schools the flexibility and autonomy needed to be truly accountable for transforming student outcomes.