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Funding to L.A. magnet school restored

L.A. Unified reverses a decision that cost a top-performing campus about $300,000 in anti-poverty funding after parents found evidence of a bureaucratic error.

May 20, 2013|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Supt. John Deasy, right, conceded that internal confusion resulted in several L.A. schools failimg to qualify for Title 1 money.
Supt. John Deasy, right, conceded that internal confusion resulted in… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

School district officials have reversed a decision that cost a top-performing Los Angeles campus about $300,000 in funding after parents uncovered evidence that a bureaucratic error led to the loss of funds. Five other schools also are likely to get more dollars as well.

L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy acknowledged Friday that internal confusion resulted in several schools failing to qualify for federal Title 1 money.

"Services that they had counted on will not be lost," Deasy told The Times.

The funding loss had engendered a campaign last week by parents at Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, which is known by the acronym LACES. They'd learned that their Mid-City campus was being denied anti-poverty funds — even though they were convinced that the school should have qualified.

For weeks, senior officials were adamant that LACES was not entitled to the funding. But an internal communication surfaced late last week that seemed to verify the parents' version of events.

At that point, Deasy ordered a change in course. He also said Friday that five other schools also were affected.

LACES, a popular magnet school with high test scores, serves grades 6 through 12. It's "not too big and not too small," said parent Connie Sommer. "We have a wonderful principal who is so honest and caring and works so hard. And the academics are excellent."

Parents raise $130,000 to $150,000 annually for such items as a choir director and a leased copier. Last week alone, families collected 1,400 pounds of recycling to generate $540.

But that doesn't mean there aren't low-income families who deserve anti-poverty aid, parents said.

These Title 1 funds are intended to compensate for the challenges faced by students in low-income families.

A school's eligibility is based on the percentage of students who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. The federal goal is to concentrate spending on schools with a poverty rate of at least 75%.

In L.A. Unified, schools with as few as 40% low-income students had been receiving dollars, although at a lower funding level. Last year, with relatively little notice, L.A. Unified raised the minimum to 50%, which added to shortfalls at schools already enduring recession-related cuts. LACES was one such campus, with 46% low-income students last year.

Under pressure from schools, the district provided one year of "transition" money at reduced funding levels.

LACES received $150,000 instead of $300,000, and was able to preserve one day a week of popular after-school math study groups, some extra classroom aides and a full-time nurse. It still lost two teachers and a guidance counselor, said Susan Robinson, co-president of the parent fundraising group Friends of LACES.

This year, LACES was sure it had turned in enough valid forms to cross the 50% eligibility threshold. District officials claimed otherwise, saying the school had fallen just short: 813 forms out of 1,638 students — 49.6%.

But an internal communication reviewed by The Times indicated that 10 additional approved forms arrived by an Oct. 3 deadline. Deasy said Friday that the real cutoff had been announced as Sept. 28 — so LACES was too late. But he conceded that a separate bulletin, on a closely related subject, could have been interpreted as setting the date as Oct. 3.

Indeed, as late as Wednesday, district officials themselves referred to the deadline as Oct. 3. They also claimed to have no knowledge about the forms LACES turned in Oct. 3. And yet, several senior officials had, in fact, been alerted, according to the internal documentation reviewed by The Times.

Deasy announced the restoration in funding after The Times contacted the district about the document on Thursday.

Although LACES parents are pleased to obtain extra assistance, that money may come from somewhere else where it's also needed.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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