Last Dec. 20, the Bakersfield City School District sent a letter to its teachers letting them know that summer school for the 2019 school year was being canceled.
The letter cited "anticipated budget reductions, " "increased costs in summer school programs" and "declining student enrollment in summer school." It also pointed to "the lack of evidence of knowledge retained from the short learning program."
The decision did not sit well with some.
"We think BCSD has an obligation to its most vulnerable student population, which includes foster kids, English language learners and those in poverty," said Cecilia Castro, Education Policy Director with the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Last year summer school lasted just 13 days at a budgeted cost of $2.7 million. According to district figures, 5,300 students enrolled, but on day one just 3,300 showed up for school and at the end of the session fewer than 3,000 children were in class. This year's budgeted cost is $1.6 million.
At first glance, it might not seem prudent (as George H. W. Bush used to say) to continue on this course. But whoa! Not so fast, several critics say.
"Because it's an LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) goal, they really should have had stakeholder meetings before they chose to discontinue summer school," said Steve Comstock, president of Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association.
LCAP is a three-year school funding law that gives parents a say in how schools tailor state funds to meet their particular needs. It requires school districts to involve parents in planning and decision-making as well as in developing Local Control and Accountability Plans before any such plan is approved by a school district and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office.
We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here where priority is to be given to help the neediest children including, in particular, foster youth, children eligible for free or reduced price meals, and English language learners.
Under state rules, before adopting an LCAP plan a school district must hold a series of public meetings with stakeholders, meaning parents and advisory groups, to present the plan and to get public input and comment. In this case, BCSD would then adopt the plan in June and forward it to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office for approval.
Now, here's where critics say BCSD jumped the gun.
If a district wants to amend its LCAP plan in midstream, they must abide by state education code 52062, which states the following: "A governing board of a school district may only adopt a revision to a local control and accountability plan if it follows the process to adopt a local control and accountability plan pursuant to this section and the revisions are adopted in a public meeting."
In this case, BCSD administration, with the blessing of its five school board, announced the decision to amend its plan on Dec. 20, 2018, apparently without first having gone through the proper requirements.
"It seems to us that someone in the district said, 'OK, let's not have summer school, and that's it,' without any of those processes taking place," said Valentin Narvaez, of Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance. "As far as I can tell, there's been no formal procedure to actually revise the plan that was signed off by the district."
I caught up with BCSD Superintendent "Doc" Ervin at an LCAP symposium held on Saturday at Stiern Middle School to try to clarify the apparent conflict.
"I don't do media interviews," Ervin said as he walked to a classroom for a breakout session.
Ervin said he was done talking about summer school. "There's always individuals out there that are mad or complaining," he added.
He later (sort of) relented and took my questions in a question and answer session in a classroom.
Ervin said the district should've informed parents earlier that it was cutting summer school. "It got away from us when the letter was leaked to the media," said Ervin, adding that the district is now following protocol in informing parents about its December decision.
Ervin said he apologized to a parents' group for not informing them earlier. "If we get 30,000 parents who say, 'We want summer school,' then yeah, we'll revisit it."
Assistant District Superintendent Mark Luque said the district sent its letter out in December, providing plenty of notice to faculty and staff.
The $1.6 million budgeted for summer school this year will go back into the general fund and used for other purposes, said Ervin.
Despite the Ed Code stipulation, it appears BCSD may not have violated any law. "Education code says that a (school district) can make the changes requested without having to repeat all the steps," Robert Meszaros, Kern County Superintendent of Schools spokesman, wrote me in an email. "It would be best practice that districts share any potential changes at board meetings, stakeholder meetings, and/or LCAP advisory meetings," added Meszaros.
The question remains, what to do about declining student enrollment in summer school? BCSD has tried to entice students to come to its summer session by making it seem fun, even offering prizes to those who show up the first week of summer school. Sadly, students who need it the most fail to take advantage.
BCSD will be reevaluating summer program, but no decision has yet been made on whether it will be back next school year.