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After a heated exchange, San Diego Unified board members voted narrowly to request more information about a proposed plan to reshuffle federal funds for low-income students, delaying a vote on the plan itself.

The proposal, touted by trustees Shelia Jackson and Luis Acle and supported by representatives of the impacted schools, would reallocate Title 1 money to give a greater percentage of the funds to the district’s poorest schools, at the expense of somewhat wealthier schools currently receiving the funds.

District staffers including Interim Superintendent Bill Kowba recommended the plan as the best way to spare as many schools as possible from losing money. Due to cuts in the federal money and a simultaneous increase in the number of low-income students needing it, San Diego Unified has projected a potential 12 to 17 percent drop in Title 1 funding to all schools if the school district doesn’t alter how it allocates the funds.

“The default is back to the status quo,” Kowba said, “and the vast majority of schools would lose money.”

The school district had offered to help schools that lost Title 1 money by changing how it allocated another fund: Economic Impact Aid/Limited English Proficiency money. The money is currently distributed to school sites on the basis of English-learning students, with a portion remaining at the district level to pay for English-learner aides who visit schools. Deputy Superintendent Geno Flores said state monitors had recommended altering how San Diego Unified distributes the EIA/LEP funds, giving all money directly to schools, and distributing it based upon English-learners and students with lagging test scores. Flores argued that the shift wouldn’t result in a decrease in services for English-learning students, because the vast majority was also scoring low on exams.

Still, trustee Mitz Lee said she “couldn’t support a change, of using this as funding,” and asked why the district’s advisory committee for English-learning students had not been consulted on the change.

Nakamura asked to delay the vote, requesting more information on how each school was spending its Title 1 money, including schools’ actual spending for this year and last year, any rollover funds, Program Improvement funds allocated to help a school get out of the punitive stage imposed by No Child Left Behind, and the current use of EIA/LEP funds. Associate Superintendent Dorothy Harper noted that the data request would fall heavily on principals, as would the delay in the decision on Title 1 funds, which makes it difficult for school staffers to plan for the expected budget cuts. Several area superintendents shook their heads as Nakamura, Lee and de Beck asked for a delay. De Beck asked to put the question before Terry Grier, who was recently selected by the board as the district’s new superintendent. Grier is working on a per-diem basis until July 1, when his contract begins.

The issue spurred an acrimonious debate between the trustees, pitting Jackson and Acle, who represent areas south of Interstate 8, against Nakamura, Lee and de Beck, whose districts fall north of the freeway. Acle openly accused Nakamura, Lee and de Beck of overlooking the greater good for “parochial interests.”

“This is the third or fourth year that we haven’t had the guts to put the money where it belongs,” Jackson said.

Nakamura dismissed those comments as “the annual allegations that we’re all heartless north of 8. … I’m not going to abandon kids in poverty at my schools” with a lower percentage of low-income students. She, in turn, accused schools of merely trying to avoid No Child Left Behind penalties by not receiving Title 1 funds. (The law only applies to schools that receive the federal funds.)

Kowba said staffers would strive to get the requested data to trustees as soon as possible, to avoid any further delays.

EMILY ALPERT

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