Santa Barbara News-Press, 4/23/05

Goleta teachers weigh forfeiting funds
District would lose $450,000 if it opts out of federal No Child Left Behind program


Although the Goleta school board appears to be less willing to become the first district in California to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind requirements next year, its final decision could hinge on what the teachers think.

Teachers union President Kim Seya will survey colleagues in the coming weeks on how they feel about the law, which most of the five school board trustees view as overly punitive.

Meanwhile, one teacher who spoke to the board Wednesday night said the law has done "a lot of damage" at Isla Vista School, which, like other schools sanctioned by the law, was forced to send letters to parents informing them they may send their children to higher-performing schools. Twenty-six parents requested transfers this year, most of them for incoming kindergartners.

"That (letter) changed morale," said Isla Vista teacher Oranne Lee. "It changed how parents perceive the school."

She added that the law's focus on ensuring that all subgroups -- such as Latino and special education students -- clear the hurdle has created problems as well.

"It has begun to be divisive," she said, without elaborating.

Although most of the trustees seem to find the law too punitive, three are loath to pay the price for ignoring it: forfeiting the $450,000 in federal Title I money the district receives for low-income students.

"I think it's important to let the community know: not this year," school board President Manor Buck said. "We're not going to pull the plug for a period of time."

But board members Dean Nevins and Susan Epstein -- both of whom were elected in November -- remain more interested.

"I am definitely willing to help out if it would significantly help our teachers," Mr. Nevins said. "I would in a second."

Ms. Epstein's stance was more subtle.

"At this point, unless we hear something really strong from the teachers, I don't see us opting out at this time," she said. "I propose we resume research on this in six months. . . . Let's see if other districts have opted out, and let them be the pioneers."

At one point, Mr. Nevins, who initiated the discussion in February, pointedly asked Superintendent Ida Rickborn why she has already recommended against opting out when her recommendation wasn't sought.

"It makes it really hard to have a discussion on this," he said. "We haven't finished the investigation of this issue. We haven't talked about any of the benefits."

Ms. Rickborn, who is retiring at the end of the school year, replied: "I wanted you to know how I felt. For the coming year it's best to maintain the status quo."

The 3,800-student Goleta elementary district is widely considered to be in good financial shape.

The nine-school elementary district enjoys a rare funding status known as "basic aid" that grants it about $700 per student beyond what is received by the majority of California districts.

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. In essence, it aims to get all lower-achieving students over the same ascending hurdle, and it sanctions entire schools when certain subgroups within them fail to do so. By 2014, 100 percent of the nation's students are expected to be proficient.

In California, the benchmark is currently set around 15 percent, depending on the subject and grade level. Next year it bumps up to about 25 percent.

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