FAQs AND DEFINITIONS

The following definitions do not reflect the La Jolla Cluster Association's position nor opinion with regards to charter schools, district splits or autonomous agreements.  This page is solely to inform ALL parents, students,teachers and staff, of the facts involving such options as much misinformation has already been disseminated throughout San Diego.  If you find any errors or omissions, please send corrections to lajollacluster@gmail.com.

CLUSTER

What is a cluster?

A cluster is a high school and the middle and elementary schools that feed into it.

What schools are in the La Jolla cluster?

La Jolla High, Muirlands Middle, Bird Rock, La Jolla and Torrey Pines Elementaries.

What is a cluster organization?

A group of individuals, representing each campus, working together towards common goals.

What are the benefits of having a cluster organization?

We can share ideas and resources, identify common goals for K through 12, determine spending priorities, create bridges between schools to ease transitions, have a unified voice when working with the district, and create an environment of unity instead of competition in our community.

What would it take to create a cluster organization?

Drafting bylaws and articles of incorporation, applying for 501(c)(3) status, creating a mission statement and a strategic plan.

Who would craft all these documents?

Each site would elect parent and staff representatives to the cluster committee. This group will be supported in its work by subcommittees and paid and pro-bono experts.

How would the Board of the cluster organization be formed and who would be on it?

The cluster committee will write the bylaws of the cluster organization and determine such details as the number of people on the governing board, how positions are filled, term limits, etc. 

By having a cluster organization, does that mean we will be sharing the money we raise at each individual school? 

The organization can be structured any way we want.  The elected or appointed representatives will speak on your school’s behalf and jointly determine the specifics.  The online survey will include detailed questions, such as whether or not site-raised contributions should be shared, to get a better understanding of what our community truly desires.  Please keep in mind there are many options to consider.  For example, the cluster might decide to host one fundraiser that goes towards a common goal and keep site raised money separate. 

Have any other clusters in San Diego Unified formed cluster organizations?

Point Loma formed an organization three years ago and their information can be found on their website, www.pointlomacluster.com.  To read their strategic plan, click here.  Mira Mesa and UC have also begun this process.

Would we work with other clusters?

Absolutely.  Parent leaders from the La Jolla community have already been in discussions with parent leaders from Point Loma to share information and offer assistance. How will unifying as a cluster help our schools with the budget cuts?There is definitely power in working together.  SDUSD acting Superintendent Bill Kowba and District Relations Officer Bernie Rhinerson heard that we were organizing a cluster meeting and THEY reached out to US. They joined us at one of our meetings and encouraged us to move forward with organizing the cluster. If we are unified as a cluster, they said, we would speak in one voice – and that one voice would be amplified and taken more seriously.

 

PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT

 

What is PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT with regards to our cluster?

A contract between SDUSD and the La Jolla cluster detailing which instructional decisions, governance options and financial obligations would be transferred from the district level to the cluster and/or site level.  Accountability standards would be determined, and if continually met, the agreement would remain active.  Such decisions may include, but are not limited to (in no particular order):  class size, GATE, athletics, curriculum, Vice Principals, etc.  La Jolla High School presently has an active instructional autonomous agreement with San Diego Unified and it is posted on their website, click here to read it.

Why would we want an partnership agreement?

One size does not fit all.  What’s right for other clusters might not be the best for us and vice versa. 

Why should we fight other schools over what programs we want to keep or cut? 

Schools or clusters should be able to make their own decision as they are the ones who know what is best for their students.

How do we get an autonomous agreement?

Our first step is to organize as a cluster. Once our cluster organization is functioning, the governing board could write up an agreement outlining what we want at the school and cluster level. Then cluster representatives would meet with district staff and board members to get it approved.

Are we still part of the district if we have an autonomous agreement?

Yes.

Would we need to hire a COO or CEO to handle additional financial duties?

Ideally, no.  However, if the agreement is asking for a large amount of financial control, then hiring a COO might be advisable.

Would we be able to specialize curriculum with an autonomous agreement?

If approved, we would be able to do anything that was negotiated in the contract.

 

CHARTER SCHOOL

 

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that provides instruction in any combination of grades, kindergarten through grade twelve. Parents, teachers, or community members may initiate a charter petition (contract), which is typically presented to and approved by a local school district governing board. Specific goals and operating procedures for a charter school are detailed in the agreement between the charter authorizing entity and the charter developer. A charter school is exempted from many of the statutes and regulations that apply to school districts but must meet the accountability standards that are outlined in their charter. Students enroll in charter schools on a voluntary basis. 

What benefits would we receive from being a charter school?

Complete financial and instructional autonomy. 

How do we form a charter school?

1.  Elect or appoint parent and staff representatives who will draft a charter petition outlining mission and vision statements, instructional programs, budget governance structure, administrative structure, staffing levels, and facilities needs.  Hire or recruit consultants in the areas of curriculum and instruction, educational finance and funding, facilities, governance, and PR/community building, to assist in the creation of the charter document.  All petitions must address the following state required elements:  1. Educational Program; 2. Measurable Pupil Outcomes; 3. Student Assessments; 4. Governance Structure; 5. Employee Qualifications; 6. Health and Safety Procedures; 7. Racial and Ethnic Balance; 8. Admissions Requirements; 9. Annual Audits; 10. Suspension and Expulsion Policies; 11. Employee Benefits; 12. Attendance Alternatives; 13. Return Rights of Employees; 14. Dispute Resolution; 15. Employee Representation; 16. Procedures for Closing. 

2.  Since we would be a “conversion” charter (meaning we are presently a public school and would “convert” to a charter school, as opposed to creating a “start up” charter school) we would need to get at least 50% of current tenured teachers at each school site to sign a petition that they are “meaningfully interested” to work at the converted charter. 

3.  Submit petition (charter document) to school board for approval.

How do you run a charter school?The charter petition would explain, in detail, the governance structure and financial viability.  Typically, there is a charter school board that makes the final decisions.   Can district school boards reject charter petitions?Yes, if a requirement was not met.  If the developer believes all the requirements were met, he or she may appeal to the county board.

How is a charter school funded?

Charter schools are supposed to receive the same government money per student as traditional public schools, although in reality they often receive somewhat less. Many seek additional support from foundations and private donors.

How does admission/enrollment to charter schools work?

Though the wording is slightly different, the general state and federal provisions are essentially the same in regard to admission of students.  Per state law, a charter school is a public school that:  No pupil is required to attend;  Admits all pupils who wish to attend and who are residents of California, regardless of their place of residence;  Determines admission by a public random drawing if the number of pupils who wish to attend exceeds the school’s capacity.  Per federal law, a charter school is a public school that:  Parents choose; Admits students on the basis of a lottery, if more students apply for admission than can be accommodated; Operates in accordance with State law.  If a charter school has more students who wish to attend than it has space available, a public random drawing/lottery must be held to determine admission. However, there are exemptions (sometimes referred to exceptions or preferences.)  A student who is “exempt” is admitted without participation in the lottery.    According to state law, students who reside in the “former attendance area” of a charter school created by conversion of an existing public school MUST be given preference.

Are teachers unionized in charter schools?

Some are, some aren't.  Charter schools do not have to require teaches to have teaching certificates, but they may not prevent teachers from unionizing. 

Do teachers lose their seniority when they work at a charter school?

Often times, teachers are offered one to three years to work at the charter school to make sure it’s a right fit before losing any seniority at their district.   Conversion charter teachers may also remain with their present union (if they remain with their union, waivers may be negotiated.) 

Do parents have more say than teachers in charter schools?  

If the parents and teachers in our cluster decided to pursue the charter option, the charter contract would be written by parents and teachers, ideally satisfying all parties involved.

Do teachers have more responsibilities than just teaching in charter schools? 

Typically, teachers in charter schools do have more responsibilities than teachers in traditional public schools. However, if the La Jolla cluster board at some point decides to go this route, our charter contract would be written by parents and teachers, ideally satisfyingall parties involved.

Do teachers have job stability in charter schools?

Typically, teachers in charter schools have yearly or multi-year contracts, however, if the cluster board chose to go this route, our charter contract would be written by parents and teachers, ideally satisfying all parties involved.

Do we get to stay on our campuses if we convert to charter schools?

Yes.  We would pay the district rent for the facilities.  As long as the charter remains active, we would be able to stay.

How long would it take to convert to a charter school?

Can be done in 12 months but could take 18 months to 2 years. Did La Jolla High ever look into converting to a charter school? Yes.  Instead of going charter, they negotiated a semi-autonomous agreement (see below).  To read the legal opinion regarding LJHS charter conversion, click here.  Click here to see their proposed Revenue and Expense Statement.  Click here to see their proposed Monthly Cash Flow Statement.

 

DISTRICT SPLIT

 

What is a “district split”?

When you divide a larger school district into two or more smaller ones.  San Diego Unified is the second biggest district in California with 134,000 students.  John DeBeck proposed a Coastal District Split back in 2010, you can read about it here

How do you split a district?

Get 25% of the registered voters within the boundaries of the proposed split to sign a petition.  Hire professionals to draft the plan, including all financial obligations.  Once signatures are verified, present a plan to the County and State Boards.  (The plan must address certain requirements such the original district's test scores and racial mix must remain unchanged by the separation.)  If the plan is approved, 51% of all voters in the new district must support it. How often do district splits happen?Rarely.  Has failed in other California districts due to varying reasons, including retirement obligations. 

Can La Jolla become its own district?

Need to follow all the same steps listed above, and make sure the original district's test scores and racial mix remain unchanged by the separation.  Keep in mind that if enrollment at La Jolla schools goes down, the resulting lower per-pupil funding would result in reduced courses and programs.

How long would it take to split a district?

Years.  Even after all the petition signing and elections, if passed, professionals on each side would need to divide the district's assets (think real bad divorce :-)

If La Jolla becomes its own city, would it automatically become its own school district?

No. 

 

GENERAL

 

Who makes the financial decisions in the San Diego Unified School District?

The SDUSD School Board Members.  However, some of the money that comes to our district is earmarked for certain programs that cannot be altered.

Who are the San Diego Unified School Board Members?

Richard Barrera, John Lee Evans, Kevin Beiser, Marne Foster, and Scott Barnett (represents La Jolla).  The website can be found here.

What Union do the teachers belong to in our district?

San Diego Education Association.

What can I do to help?

Join our email list.  Share your comments and ideas.  Volunteer your time. Donate money to hire needed experts and professionals.  (Or, if you are a needed expert or professional, donate your time.)

 

QUESTIONS FROM THE TOWN HALL HELD ON JAN 21, 2010

THE TOWN HALL WAS HELD TO DETERMINE IF WE SHOULD FORM A CLUSTER ASSOCIATION

 

How much does it cost to create a cluster group?  Where does the funding come from - will there be equal contributions from each school?

If we can get experts to donate their time, the main cost would be for submitting legal documents and applying for 501(c)(3) status at a total of under a couple thousand dollars.  At this point we will be looking to individual parents to contribute small amounts to get the organization's legal documents prepared and submitted.  School foundations will not be asked to contribute as they did not raise funds specifically for this reason.

The newspaper said something about La Jolla High operating "autonomously" from the district.  How does that work and can we do that across the cluster (including elementary schools)?

The autonomous agreement LJHS currently has with the district is an instructional autonomy agreement and it is posted on their website (click here to read it.)  One option moving forward would be to create a cluster autonomy agreement which would include certain instructional and budgetary items.  This agreement would have to be approved by the school board.

How would becoming a cluster give us more control over budgetary decisions?

Once we are unified, we will have one voice when speaking to the district.  District staff and board members have told us that a unified voice is far more influential than one person speaking at a board meeting.  If our cluster priorities and goals are not achieved through conversation with the board, we could move forward in various ways including but not limited to:  creating a cluster budgetary autonomy agreement (would need board approval), writing a petition for charter conversions, or hiring experts to assist in some sort of district split.

Would the cluster still allow for flexibility at schools (e.g. if one school feels they need more funding for resource services and another for technology)?

The schools will still be receiving the exact same amount of funds/staff/services as they do now.  Forming a cluster organization will not affect individual site funding in any way.  IF the cluster board decides to move forward with an option that would gain more financial control at the cluster level, then the board (comprised of parents and staff from each school) would determine how the funds would be spent.  Ideally, each school would get what they needed.  The cluster board would not take a "One Size Fits All" approach.

How would the cluster organization impact the parent organizations in each school?

Uniting as a cluster would NOT replace or supersede the parent groups presently at each school such as foundations, PTAs or PTOs.

We pay a lot into the San Diego Unified District but are subject to the same level of cuts as all other schools.  Would the cluster organization make a difference in our schools cuts for 2010-2011?  If not, when?

Our property taxes go directly to Sacramento.  We do not "pay into" San Diego Unified.  Each district is subject to the same cuts in Education.  It is up to each district's school board to determine how those cuts will affect each individual school.   The cluster group would most likely NOT make a difference with regards to specific school cuts for the 2010-2011 school year, however, having a cluster organization might allow us to stretch the few dollars we'll have by sharing resources.  The school board will be balancing their budget and making their cuts this month which doesn't leave us much time.  Once our priorities are identified, we can meet with board members and share our findings as now we will be speaking on behalf of five schools, not just our own. 

Will (forming a cluster organizations) in any way affect the VEEP or Choice programs?

If you're wondering if VEEP and/or Choice would be eliminated, absolutely not.  Even if we form as a cluster, we are still part of San Diego Unified and will still be a part of all their programs.  If we identify problems with either system or ways to improve the process, such as having VEEP students begin at the elementary school level and continue through middle and high to form true bonds among students, then we will try to work with the district to address the issue.

Would teacher unions still have a say in budget, etc.?

Yes.

Can you give some examples of the different committees?

Right now we are looking for volunteers that have experience in forming corporations, applying for non-profit status, educational governance, educational strategic plans, political lobbying, PR, etc.  Once we have an official board, they will determine committees titles.  For example, the committees on the Point Loma Cluster are: ICT Literacy ; Finance; Learning Environment; Learning Communities; Marketing. 

Is it a future goal for clusters to become "charter clusters" to gain more independence and federal stimulus money?

First, the La Jolla cluster must identify their goals.  Once identified, they will opt for the most efficient way to reach them.  While converting to charters are an option, there are many other options as well.

What was the decision to NOT PURSUE becoming autonomous like La Jolla High School?

That option is not off the table.  Once we unify and get all schools sharing their ideas and goals, we can identify what we want and how to get it.  Crafting an autonomous agreement is a very viable option.  Please keep in mind, the agreement La Jolla High presently has with the district does not include financial independence with regards to the budget cuts. 

What are the drawbacks (of creating a cluster organization)?  If it's so good, how come it has not already been done?

There are no drawbacks as far as we can tell, aside from a huge amount of volunteer time - which is why many clusters don't do it.  Also keep in mind, that we in La Jolla have been very happy with our schools and saw no reason to change anything.  With the present and impending budget cuts, parents started talking and realized that even though we are satisfied, things could improve if we communicated better.

Does the teachers union have an opinion or any input about cluster organizations?

As far as we know they are fine with cluster organizations.  Teachers and staff will of course be a part of the unified group.

Do the parents from each school have to agree to form a cluster?  A certain percentage?  Is there a vote?  What or who decides to move forward?

All you need is volunteers.  There is no official rules that you must follow to form a cluster organization.  Technically, it doesn't even have to be a legal organization, it can be a group of parents from each school that want to help. 

As wonderful as the benefits will be for LJ students, how will these clusters affect other neighborhoods that do not have clusters? 

Every school is in a cluster.  La Jolla forming a cluster group would not take away from students in other clusters.  If anything, we would like to be a model for other clusters to follow.

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