School Board Narrowly Extends Controversial Policy Allowing Local Schools to Fundraise for Personnel Expenses
The School Board narrowly approved an extension to a controversial policy that allows local school sites to raise funds to pay for personnel expenses. Had the extension not been approved it would have likely meant the end of elementary booster organizations like the Anza Eagle Education Alliance that were created to help raise funds for needed intervention teachers and other enrichment programs. The 3 to 2 vote followed a somewhat tense discussion, which is an uncommon occurrence for a generally chummy Board that typically passes everything by unanimous vote.
The policy in question was first enacted in 2010 at a time when the District was weathering an economic storm that resulted in deep budget cuts and a sizable reduction in the District’s teaching staff. School Board member Mark Steffen, a consistent critic of the policy, once again argued fervently against it stating that the fiscal conditions are no longer what they were back in 2010. He also added:
“I got to look at every kid and I can’t say look you guys over there have more dollars in your pocket … [so] I’m going to just let you buy a better education than these [other] guys can afford. We might as well have a private school or a charter school … I think it’s inherently wrong for the Board to allow that kind of segregation through finances.”
Board member Terry Ragins joined Steffens in voicing opposition to the policy by stating, “We are a unified district and we are not providing a unified and consistent set of resources to all of our students in all of our schools by allowing this.”
One of the yes votes, Board Member Don Lee commented that he wholeheartedly agreed with Steffens and said that if he could rewind the practice to back when it first started that he would say no, but that it this point he didn’t think they could put the genie back in bottle.
Another one of the yes votes, School Board member Michael Wermers offered his belief that, “we got problems coming financially,” further commenting that “I would dance with the devil to keep funding in our schools.”
When the policy was first enacted Wermers had expressed his uneasiness about it by stating, “Frankly, it gives me the creeps, but in dire, desperate times, we have to make dire, desperate decisions.”
The other Board Member Martha Deutsch, who rarely speaks during Board meetings, was silent on this topic as well, but did vote yes joining Wermers and Lee in the majority.
Only a handful of the elementary schools in the district take advantage of the policy. Riviera appears to be the greatest beneficiary having raised $421,000 in the last three years that it spent on intervention, science, computer, and music teachers. The funds raised by other schools pale in comparison. Victor raised $146,000, Anza $110,500, and Seaside $86,000. None of the other elementary schools raised funds nearing those amounts while Adams, Carr, Lincoln, Torrance, Towers, Wood, and Yukon didn’t raise any funds at all towards personnel expenses.
During the meeting, Ragins also said she was troubled that some of the schools raising funds were not following the minimum set of requirements that the School Board had set out. School Board member Don Lee pressed Ragins to elaborate on that comment, but Ragins would not say more expressing hesitation due to the public setting. She did, however, suggest that the District was investigating the policy violations.
Those procedures as outlined by the policy are as follows:
- Funds must be deposited in full with Torrance Unified School District prior to submission of any personnel requisition.
- All site decisions must have the approval of the site principal.
- All personnel rules and regulations must be followed.
- Personnel, paid the contract hourly rate, may be hired for intervention and/or enrichment programs.
- Classified personnel may be hired as long as they are paid on an hourly basis.
The extension of the policy approved by the Board will sunset 30 June 2020.