California School News — June 2017
Change Language:
Local Control Is Essential — And Not Guaranteed
CSBA President Susan Henry

My current position as CSBA President often takes me far from home, but I never forget that the crux of our work as school board members takes place in our local communities.

Engagement with parents on the issue of student achievement is one of the most critical aspects of our service. That point was reinforced by a recent survey which measured the involvement of CSBA delegates with their district’s Local Control and Accountability Plans.

The survey of nearly 200 board members, conducted at CSBA’s May Delegate Assembly, found that 68 percent of respondents described themselves as being “very involved” or “somewhat involved” in providing input on LCAP development. Similarly, 63 percent of participants said they were “very involved” or “somewhat involved” in community engagement efforts related to the LCAP.

While I found this data heartening — and a welcome antidote to claims that some board members aren’t fully invested in the LCAP process — I remain convinced we can do even more. School board members should be active participants in their district’s LCAP, both because of fiduciary responsibilities and because the LCAP reflects at least a portion of the district’s overall vision and strategic plan.

LCAP participation is also critical for another reason — it can help preserve the important role of democratically elected school boards. Critics who seek to erode the authority of local boards pounce on lack of participation, lack of transparency or any perceived failing with LCAPs as a rationale for greater mandates and more state control. A return to the days of one-size-fits-all budget allocations and categorical funding that denies the unique makeup of California’s nearly 1,000 school districts is intolerable.

When Gov. Jerry Brown introduced the Local Control Funding Formula, he argued, correctly, that those closest to the schools were best equipped to make decisions for their specific circumstances. As a result, LCFF devolved much of the authority for allocating funds to local governing boards. This was both a practical and democratic decision, but there were those who questioned the ability of school boards to properly oversee the funds and to direct them to high-need students. Negotiations around this point resulted in the LCAP, an accountability measure meant to provide visibility into the goals and strategies of each district and how that money is spent.

CSBA has supported our members in this work, and based on the feedback from the delegate survey, we will provide more resources for school board members who are rolling up their sleeves and doing the crucial job of LCAP development and community engagement. Some op-ed writers, journalists and legislators are questioning whether school board members are up to the task, and are preparing for a rollback of the hard-won victories for local control. That would amount to a defeat for school boards, a defeat for democratic decision-making and a defeat for the 6.2 million public school students who depend on people who know their hometowns to make the best decisions for those particular communities.