Lagunitas rejects grant

During its regular meeting of the governing board on Tuesday night, the Lagunitas School District unanimously opted to decline a $100,000 grant due to the conditions it entailed.

“The risks are too great to accept this,” said District Superintendent Larry Enos. “If we had $100,000 and could apply it to an intervention program instead we certainly would, but there’s a liability in accepting these funds.”

The grant offer from the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program came in September on the condition that 95 percent of the school’s students participate in the California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) exam.

The inherent liability Enos mentioned stems from the fact that a third of the students’ families have opted them out of taking the test. This restricts the district from getting an Academic Performance Index score from the state. And without this score the federal program ranks the school as below-average by default, consequently making them a priority for funding.

“We’re considered in the same boat as those districts where test scores are very bad,” said Denise Santa Crus-Bohman, one of the district’s trustees. But the district as a whole is by no means failing; it just has a substantial number of families who do not want their children taking the test. Because of this, the district has been in noncompliance with the terms of the NCLB Act for the past three years, a big reason why the grant was awarded to them.

One reason that “a growing group of parents think the tests are a waste of time,” according to Santa Crus-Bohman, is that the district offers three programs that are taught using alternative techniques. Currently there are the Montessori, Waldorf and Open schools, which do not always comply with the STAR test’s uniform standards: hence parents who choose these schools are not always keen on having their children take the tests.

According to the board, offering the families $100,000 only if they opt into STAR testing is equivalent to a bribe, and this is a message they wish not to convey.

An additional condition of the grant would require the board to give the money back to the program if it failed to achieve the desired improvements. Richard Sloan, another member of the board, pointed out the exact passage within the grant, which read: “Failure to comply will result in billing for entire amount of the grant.”

According to Enos, however, each school’s academic progress has steadily increased when looked at using the district’s own standards. The grant, therefore, would only make the district, “accountable to a system that doesn’t always apply. [The NCLB act says] we must show adequate yearly improvement, but we have this already.”

For the members of the board, there remains hope that the problems they have with the current federal system will be alleviated with the upcoming political changes. “The future administration knows there are huge flaws in the current act,” said Santa Crus-Bohman. “They talk about reform, but I personally would like to see the whole thing go away. At least there’s the admission that it’s flawed—I don’t think they could make it any worse.”