OAKHURST — Now, there’s one massive task checked off Yosemite Unified School District’s lengthy to-do list.
After a grueling four-month scrutiny under what’s known as compliance monitoring, including the line-by-line parsing of some 335 documents, the state of California results are in.
For well over the sixteen weeks since school began, the district has been in the throes of Federal Program Monitoring (FPM) by the California Department of Education (CDE). Members of the state review team say the district administrative team has made great progress under difficult circumstances.
At risk was some $500,000 in Title 1 money for the year, the biggest and most important federal funding source that schools get for educational programs, according to the CDE team.
By June 30, 2017, YUSD had already applied for Title 1 and Title 2 funds for the 2017-18 year, when the problem of unresolved findings from 2015-16 reared its head. The 2017-18 funds were approved on the condition the findings would be resolved.
In order to ensure that spending sticks to the rules of state and federal law, school districts with certain federal funding — the “Title” Programs — can be reviewed by the state. A state review team then reports any findings of non-compliance and tells the district how fix the problems.
Districts like Yosemite may be chosen as often as every two years for review. Several factors, including compliance history, program size, and fiscal analysis are considered in identifying districts for review. According to the CDE, approximately 120 school districts, direct-funded charter schools, and county offices are selected each school year for on-site or online monitoring.
YUSD is extra-lucky, having been selected for FPM review twice in recent history, for 2015-16 and 2017-18. Now, that’s done.
“We want to thank Yosemite Unified School District for its hospitality and for accommodating us this week,” says Beth Anselmi, FPM Review Team Leader. “As this review comes to a close, we are confident the right people are in place in leadership positions. It was an outstanding review.”
Fourteen specific school programs may come under the looking glass in the course of an FPM review. For the 2017-18 period, YUSD was selected for four of those fourteen programs: Title 1, English Learner (EL), Phys Ed, and Uniform Complaint Procedures.
Typically, Anselmi says, a review of this size may yield twelve to fourteen findings. Findings are elements of individual program requirements not met.
“Compliance is a moving target that changes every year. Two years ago there were twenty-six findings. This year, at YUSD, there were four.”
All four of the findings were in the area of English learners. These are students who speak two or more languages and are not yet sufficiently proficient in English to be able to benefit from mainstream instruction.
Of those, two are “slam dunks,” which will be corrected within the next few days, while the other two are worth taking the time and effort required to regain full compliance, says the CDE review leader. Those elements are English language development (ELD) and access to core curriculum for ELs. The state says administration has a plan in place to satisfy those requirements. This will entail professional development for teachers, administrators and paraeducators.
The review, which finalized on Friday, Jan. 19, resulted in a Notification of Findings report that gives the District 45 calendar days in which to resolve the finding. For the two findings related to teaching and learning, the district may request a time extension to work meaningfully on these important issues.
“After that, we don’t go away,” the CDE team reassured the administration. “We are here to help, to get it done and get it done well.”
The district was required to comply not only with current laws; they had to contend with findings from previous years’ FPM reviews which had gone unresolved.
In 2015-16, when YUSD was operating under a different superintendent and administrative staff, there were 51 findings.
Of those findings after the FPM in 2015-16, a significant number were unresolved when the most recent review cycled around.
“There were 11 outstanding to resolve from Title 1 alone, and they were resolved by this administrative team,” explains CDE Program Consultant Lorene Euerle, who worked on the 2017-18 reviews, in the district’s Title 1 Part A program.
District Superintendent Cecelia Greenberg, the principals and the other administrative staff successfully addressed all the outstanding findings from 2015-16 and successfully prepared for this year’s review in spite of being short-staffed, the state noted. Referring to the district as a whole, Euerle says “the ship has turned,” and “the process increased the leadership capacity” of those directly involved.
She’s referring to a team that spans the district, including school principals, school site councils, district administration, and special consultant Tracey McCully, hired by the Madera County Office of Education — all working together under tight time limitations.
In addition to Anselmi and Euerle, the California Department of Education FPM team members included Emily Oliva, Jean Leonard, Sally Lewis and Stephanie Woo. Together, they reviewed fiscal documents, curriculum descriptions, meeting agendas and minutes, master schedules and other evidence provided by Yosemite USD to demonstrate compliance.
While this was a district-wide review, the site sampled this year was Coarsegold Elementary. Principal Judy Horn says her school site council dug into material and spent many meetings — including one about nine hours long — in which they painstakingly reviewed and applied the law. The Coarsegold Elementary site council consists of the principal, three teachers, one classified staff member, and five parents.
It was an all-school, all-district effort. The district’s Director of Special Education and Student Services, Marcia Miller, worked on the FPM review, an immense task she was unable to imagine, fortunately, at first. Rivergold’s Bob Rose is the longest-standing principal in the district, and his help was said to be invaluable, as well as that of Yosemite High School’s Principal Regina Carr.
“Everyone was awesome,” says Superintendent Greenberg. “People went beyond their job descriptions. It took extra time and hard work, and we were doubtful it would be completed. It turned out to be a phenomenal team.”
The state review stands in sharp contrast to a list of budget-related recommendations given to YUSD recently by the Madera County Superintendent of Schools, in which the county says dramatic cuts are needed to keep the district from running out of money this fall. While the county continues to closely monitor the fiscal situation at YUSD, the district can breathe a bit easier with the state FPM review coming to a close last Friday.
“They’ve been swimming up a waterfall and done a good job,” says the CDE’s Anselmi. “Now, they can tackle other tasks that are more important — teaching, learning and serving the families in the district.”