The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education decided last Thursday to reconsider the policy change it made earlier this month, which eliminated the role of the District Advisory Committees (DACs) “in the overall planning of the educational programs and of budget resources” in the District.The decision came in response to criticism from District Committee members. Craig Hamilton, the co-chair of the Ad-hoc Facilities Master Plan Committee, told the Board that it is “critical to have the support of the community and the belief in the community that when they participate their participation is meaningful and will be engaged in by the District as part of the process. The change (is viewed) as being a way to take away their [the DACs’] ability to participate…[and that the] district is afraid to engage in a healthy dialogue, a public discourse, a democratic process of the recommendations that are made.”The Chair of the Special Education DAC (SEDAC), Tricia Crane, encouraged the Board to reexamine the change by saying, “Our DAC members ask tough questions about difficult issues and it doesn’t surprise me that this would sometimes be regarded as an inconvenience by staff. But this is a public school system and the questioning and probing by parents and community members is both healthy for our district, and vital to our public process. As you are well aware, School Board members cannot possibly be experts in all areas of education and the parents who volunteer their time and expertise for our DACs are a valuable and irreplaceable resource for this district. With this in mind, I ask that you continue to support the work of the DACs and move to reverse this sudden and unprecedented change in public policy. Please don’t reduce us to unpaid workers simply reporting to staff.”Another SEDAC member Leslie Buchco stressed, “It’s important that the Board send a positive signal to the DACs that you welcome as much information as they want to bring.”Prior to voting to reexamine the issue, Board member Oscar De la Torre asked Superintendent John Deasy to interpret the policy change from a District perspective. Deasy responded that the policy change would result in “no substantive change whatever in how the DACs work,” adding that “the overall planning of the educational programs and of budget resources was removed because the DACs are about budget suggestions on the allocations, not the resources. Resources are about state formulas. Resources are about parcel taxes. Resources are about how money comes into the system, not how we recommend it should be spent. We seek information from DACs on allocation and expenditure as opposed to the notion of resource.”Deasy concluded by saying that the DAC policy is clear that “DACs help us improve programs … identify needs, advocate for program changes. They are channels of important communication. They advise us on proposals to the Board of Education and they advise on the District’s education process.”Board member Maria Leon-Vasquez made a motion to discuss the policy change once again and also requested that District staff assist with the Board’s discussion on the issue by providing them with clarification and revision of the language. This discussion will occur on February 2.In a related matter, the Board decided to change and approve the language for the SEDAC charge to state that it will “advise the Board of Education on the ongoing implementation of the Special Education Strategic Plan.” This language had been suggested by the SEDAC for its charge, but was removed by the Board during its discussion of the wording at their January 5 Board meeting. The Board also approved the charges for the District’s other DAC committees.
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