Parents threaten lawsuit over LCAP violation

Parents threaten lawsuit over LCAP violation

(Calif.) The California Department of Education is being asked to withhold state funding from West Contra Costa Unified School District for allegedly not seeking public input into spending millions of dollars as required by law.

In a legal complaint filed Monday with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a group of parents claim that the district improperly allocated $30.1 million in Local Control Funding Formula monies. The plaintiffs asked that those funds be withheld until community input is taken into account.

“They fell far short of their legal obligation to consult with parents and other stakeholders about the use of these funds,” Rigel Massaro, an attorney with Public Advocates who is representing the plaintiffs, said in an interview. “LCFF requires real robust local and comprehensive decision making – it isn’t just folks at the district office – and what we see here is the district making a unilateral decision completely outside the public process without discussing alternatives or seeking input at all.”

Under LCFF, districts are required to submit detailed reports known as Local Control Accountability Plans outlining how funding will be used to enhance student achievement, as well as how additional resources will benefit more disadvantaged students, including English learners, foster youth and those from low-income families.

Students, families, teachers and interested community members are supposed to be consulted in open meetings to provide input on district spending through the LCAP process.

According to a letter sent from by the complainants to Torlakson, West Contra Costa Unified did not comply with that requirement when it allocated more than $30 million in LCFF funds in the middle of the 2015-16 school year.

A spokesperson for the district did not respond to requests for comment.

Almost $26 million of the funds currently being challenged was part of a collective bargaining agreement reached between the district and the United Teachers of Richmond. How the agreement is funded, according to the letter, is subject to the public LCAP process.

The remaining $4.3 million were supplemental and concentration funds, which must be spent improving or increasing services for the district’s disadvantaged students. The district allegedly did not publically amend its LCAP to provide explanation or measurable outcomes for the spending of these dollars – which were originally to be used in collective bargaining, the letter stated.

“Without going through the LCAP process, it’s impossible to know whether the district’s unilateral allocation is actually going to increase or improve services for low-income, English learners and foster youth in the district,” Massaro said. “You’re not going to be able to measure progress or keep accountability.”

The plaintiffs – three parents of low-income and English learner students in the district – have given Torlakson 10 days to respond to their appeal. If he does not comply, they say they will pursue a lawsuit in Contra Costa Superior Court.

“The district should begin the legally required process for getting community input on that $30.1 million,” Massaro said. “They could do so in a matter of weeks, especially as it's already doing the outreach for next year's LCAP.”