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State Fiscal Austerity Agency Says 11 School Districts Face Similar Fate as OUSD

It is now becoming clear to many local education advocates that under FCMAT, the state’s enforcer, or the whip hand of education austerity, K-12 school districts and community colleges statewide are being threatened with cuts, layoffs, and the possibility of loss of local control, even while the state is awash in an almost $50 billion surplus.

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FCMAT CEO Michael Fine.
FCMAT CEO Michael Fine.

West Contra Costa Unified School Board Defies FCMAT demand to lay off teachers.

By Ken Epstein

The financial austerity arm overseeing public education in California, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), has performed a behind-the-scenes role determining budgets, repeated cutbacks, layoffs, and the closures of 21 schools since they moved into Oakland along with the state receiver in 2003.

One district, West Contra Costa Unified, recently defied pressure from a FCMAT spokesman to lay off school staff, voting against the layoff recommendation proposed by the district administration.

It is now becoming clear to many local education advocates that under FCMAT, the state’s enforcer, or the whip hand of education austerity, K-12 school districts and community colleges statewide are being threatened with cuts, layoffs, and the possibility of loss of local control, even while the state is awash in an almost $50 billion surplus.

Every year, the California Legislature appropriates funding for FCMAT’s operation, providing most of the nonprofit agency’s financial support. Over the years, FCMAT’s scope has expanded, but it remains an extra-governmental agency, not subject to typical governmental oversight. Formed by the state in 1991, FCMAT’s authority has evolved as new state laws were passed.

Oakland Unified is not the only public school system labeled by FCMAT to be a “lack of going concern,” which FCMAT defines as a “message that a district is in jeopardy of not being able to continue on its own.”

At present, FCMAT says that there are 11 school districts in California “that have been designated as a ‘lack of going concern’ in 2021 for a variety of budget and non-budget concerns.”

These districts are Bellflower USD, Curtis Creek ESD, East San Gabriel Valley ROP, Loleta Union SD, Montebello USD, Oakland USD, Sacramento City USD, San Bruno Park USD, San Francisco COE, San Francisco USD and Sonora ESD, according to a report published Feb. 2 by FCMAT to the State Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee.

Looking at “solvency trends,” FCMAT’s report cites a number of financial difficulties, which many see as connected to the pandemic crisis or ongoing insufficient state funding. FCMAT says the most common reason for less-than-satisfactory certifications of fiscal health “is declining enrollment.”

Other negative conditions include:

  • Decreased attendance rates
  • Expiring one-time funds.
  • Inflationary cost increases.
  • Increasing staff pension contribution rates

However, the report admits that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Jan. 10 budget proposal could eliminate the “lack of going concern designation” for 50% of the districts on the list.

In addition, five Community College systems are on FCMAT’s “Distress or Watch List.”

Districts considered in distress are Gavilan in San Benito, Napa Valley in Napa and Peralta in Alameda. City College of San Francisco is on the watch list, and Compton in Los Angeles is categorized as in a borderline state of “Transition Planning.”

Although Richmond schools were not on FCMAT’s list, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) is experiencing FCMAT’s heavy hand.

FCMAT CEO Michael Fine showed up at the school board meeting March 9 to support the administration’s proposal to lay off teachers and other school staff this year. Fine told the Board that the district has a choice to accept the cuts, or the Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools will first declare a “Lack of Going Concern” and appoint an “advisor” to review the district’s budget and suggest changes.

If the board continues to refuse to make cuts, an overseer would be appointed with the right to veto WCCUSD financial decisions. If the board still ignores the ‘recommendations,’ the state could take over and give the WCCUSD a loan.

“A state loan is disastrous — it’s not good for the community, and it’s not good for the school district,” Fine told the Board, explaining that along with the loan, the superintendent would be dismissed, and the Board would lose its ability to govern. A state-imposed administrator would act as both the Board and superintendent.

Despite those threats, the Board voted 3-2 not to issue the layoffs, responding to pressure from employee unions. View the WCCUSD board meeting at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kNZpHPM3yE

WCCUSD has a long history of dealing with FCMAT and state intervention. Formerly known as Richmond Unified, the district was under state control from April 1990 to June 2012.

According to officials, the takeover was the “salvation” of the district, keeping it from going bankrupt at that time. “But state control…was the polar opposite of salvation,” according to former school Board President Charles Ramsey, who served on the board during that time.

During the takeover, the district enforced pay cuts, mid-year elimination of enrichment courses and athletic programs, closed libraries and paid $2 million in annual loan payments at 6% interest. The community responded with a 75-mile protest march on Sacramento in 2004, with some participants holding a hunger strike.

“You have this shadow overlooking you,” Ramsey said in an interview in 2012 with the California School Board Association blog. “We barely survived, but we’re pleased that we’re now through it.”

Future articles will examine FCMAT’s impact on schools in Inglewood and San Francisco, as well as on San Francisco City College, which faces layoffs of 50 full-time faculty members.

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Activism

Calif. Leaders Discuss Foster Care Reform Strategies for Black and Brown Youth

Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

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Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)
Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)

By Lila Brown, California Black Media  

 Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

During National Foster Care Month in May, Harris visited the Sanctuary of Hope in Los Angeles to host a roundtable meeting with current and former foster youth, many of whom, like Harris, have beat the odds and become successful professionals.

According to the federal government’s Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there are nearly 370,000 American children and youth in foster care.

Nationally, Black children are overrepresented in foster care. According to datacenter.kidscount.org, Black children represented 14% of the total child population in the United States. However, they represented 23% of all children in foster care. Harris pointed out that one out of every four foster youth go homeless upon exiting foster care in California. Across the state, there are nearly 65,000 children in foster care, he added. Of the 65,000 children in foster care across California, 14,000 of them are Black American.

Harris also announced a new effort already underway to push for the removal of the term “case” in L.A. County when referring to foster youth during the roundtable which featured Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Janet Kelly, the Founder and Director of Sanctuary of Hope. The session focused on solving problems foster youth face.

Sharing personal stories, insights, and various visions for policy changes, the participants discussed numerous solutions and addressed specific concerns about ongoing challenges with the foster care system.

One top priority was how to close the foster care to homelessness pipeline for the disproportionate number of Black and Brown children in LA County’s and the state’s foster care system.

“When you see the direct connection between the disproportionate rates of Black children in foster care and the disproportionate rates of Black people in the general homeless population, there is a very clear connection there in which our foster youth are coming out of care,” stated Harris during opening remarks.

Kaka said the governor has been intentional about making sure that foster children are homeless prioritized as the state addresses homelessness.

“This is a critical moment for foster care,” said Kaka. “The systems that are working together are looking at leveraging federal, state and local funds.”

Harris said he has already begun efforts in San Diego County to drop the word “case” when referring to homeless youth.

“We are asking for a 90-day public input period, in which the county CEO and leadership can facilitate discussions with the community on replacement terminology. There’s plenty of ideas,” Harris elaborated.

Kelly said a majority of the youth who go through the Sanctuary of Hope program are young people who have experienced some form of housing instability or housing crisis.

“The goal of the work that we do is really centered around helping young people leave here with leadership skills and other forms of what we call protective factors in order for them to continue on with their stabilization journey and become loving, caring and active citizens in this world,” Kelly said.

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U.S. Rep. Kamlager-Dove Leads Discussion on Improving Black Student Learning, Test Scores

Kamlager-Dove, who represents a district that covers parts of Los Angeles County, hopes that ideas shared at the event can be incorporated into models that can impact other regions across California, where Black students continue to fall behind their peers of other races and ethnicities.

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Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove (CA-37) moderates a panel including Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education during Roundtable on Equity in Education for Los Angeles Unified School District (R to L) beside Kamlager-Dove Dr. Robert Whitman, Educational Transformation Officer, Los Angeles USD; Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education; Keith Linton, Founder, Boys to Gentlemen, Dr. Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and LAUSD student Jonathan McGee. Photo by Lila Brown (CBM).
Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove (CA-37) moderates a panel including Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education during Roundtable on Equity in Education for Los Angeles Unified School District (R to L) beside Kamlager-Dove Dr. Robert Whitman, Educational Transformation Officer, Los Angeles USD; Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education; Keith Linton, Founder, Boys to Gentlemen, Dr. Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and LAUSD student Jonathan McGee. Photo by Lila Brown (CBM).

By Lila Brown, California Black Media

On April 8, U.S. Congressmember Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA-37) moderated a roundtable focused on Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) strategies to improve Black student performance in classrooms.

Kamlager-Dove, who represents a district that covers parts of Los Angeles County, hopes that ideas shared at the event can be incorporated into models that can impact other regions across California, where Black students continue to fall behind their peers of other races and ethnicities.

Discussions at the event centered on LAUSD’s Black Student Achievement Plan (BSAP) and other educational initiatives aimed at enhancing learning and boosting test scores.

“The Black Student Achievement Plan is unique in that it takes a community-centered approach to uplifting Black students,” said Kamlager-Dove during the event held at John Muir Middle School in Los Angeles.

“We must implement culturally responsive education in the classroom to challenge our students academically while giving them a sense of purpose,” she continued.

In 2023, nearly 70% of Black children in California fell below a passing mark on the state standardized English Language Arts exam, and only about 20% of those students were performing at grade level based on their scores on the math assessment test.

A variety of public education experts joined Kamlager on the panel, including Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education; Dr. Robert Whitman, Educational Transformation Officer at LAUSD; Dr. Pedro Noguera, Professor and Dean at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education; and Keith Linton, founder of the non-profit Boys to Gentlemen. 

Jonathan McGee, a student who sits on the BSAP Student Advisory Council, also spoke during the panel.

The BSAP was approved by the LAUSD Board of Education in February of the 2020-21 school year. Funds have been earmarked to address the longstanding disparities in educational outcomes between Black students and their non-Black peers. Dating back to the landmark case, Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional, positive outcomes for Black students continue to lag behind district and national averages for their non-Black counterparts.

Edogun-Ticey spoke about broader investments the federal government is making in education that directly impact Black students through The White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.

‘This administration did not shy away from the idea that we need resources for support which means billions of dollars in investment for HBCUs,” she explained.

BSAP strategies include partnering with Black families and local community; supporting the implementation of culturally and linguistically responsive and anti-racist practices; offering wrap-around support structures; and highlighting experiences that uplift the contributions of the Black community as motivation and models to develop positive Black student identity. Additionally, the BSAP provides increased staffing to support Black students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

“School districts across the country must push back against attacks on marginalized students by implementing programs like the BSAP, which should serve as a model for future initiatives,” Kamlager said.

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Legislature Advances, Renumbers, Sen. Bradford’s Reparation Freedmen’s Agency Bill

The bill, formerly entitled SB 490, moves on to the Committee on Governmental Organization.  SB 1403 would create a new state agency responsible for the administration and oversight of reparations as determined by the Legislature and Governor. 

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Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) and Los Angeles-based attorney Kamilah Moore (right), the chairperson of the task force during its two-year study.
Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) and Los Angeles-based attorney Kamilah Moore (right), the chairperson of the task force during its two-year study.

By California Black Media

On April 9, the California Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 to advance Sen. Steven Bradford’s reparation legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 1403, or the “California American Freedman Affairs Agency” bill.

The bill, formerly entitled SB 490, moves on to the Committee on Governmental Organization.  SB 1403 would create a new state agency responsible for the administration and oversight of reparations as determined by the Legislature and Governor.

Creation of the agency is one of more than 115  recommendations the nine-member California reparations task force included in its final report. The bill would require the agency to determine how an individual’s status as a descendant of an enslaved person in the United States would be confirmed.

SB 1403 would require proof of an “individual’s descendant status” to be a qualifying criterion for benefits authorized by the state for descendants, as stated in the bill’s language. To reach these goals, SB 1403 would mandate the agency to be comprised of a Genealogy Office and an Office of Legal Affairs.

In 2020, California established the first-in-the-nation task force to study reparations for African Americans.

Los Angeles-based attorney Kamilah Moore, the chairperson of the task force during its two-year study, was at the State Capitol to address the members of the Judiciary Committee as an expert witness. The attorney and scholar said the bill aims to serve individuals based on lineage rather than race.

“Today, I advocate with a sense of urgency and purpose for the passage of SB 1403, a groundbreaking bill poised to establish the California American Freedmen’s Agency,” Moore told the panel. “This agency symbolizes a crucial stride towards reparative justice, particularly for those whose lineages trace back to enslaved ancestors.”

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