Understanding the FCMAT Report Controversy
The following is a companion piece to the 2017 April feature, “…And (Quality) Education For All.”
By Milo Levine
The district’s discontent with FCMAT’s findings is to be expected, given that the report listed a variety of grievances against the district. However, these complaints were backed up by substantial evidence.
Questionable management of funds was key to the investigation. “…Excessive [financial] contribution to the charter school comes at the expense of the district’s own school [MLK], which has many unmet needs,” the report stated.
FCMAT did detail several monetary misconducts committed by the district, including not charging WCA for the facilities-related costs of out-of-district students. Twenty five percent of the WCA population does not live within the district’s boundaries. A charge for district outsiders is customary in many places, because if a family doesn’t pay taxes that directly support the school, another means of subsidizing their education may be required.
The report also exposed some potential academic disadvantages that MLK has been dealt. For instance, there are no middle school teachers with single-subject credentials at MLK. The lack of qualified teachers is amplified by the fact that 13 percent of MLK teachers have less than 3 years of instruction, compared to WCA, where none face this inexperience.
So what is the cause behind SMCSD’s seemingly unethical behavior? The FCMAT report said, “Leaders associated with WCA exercise significant control over the majority of the district’s governing board members, resulting in an excessively close relationship between the governance of the two entities and, more importantly a clearly biased financial arrangement that benefits WCA while harming the students of the district’s Bayside MLK school.”
WCA lies in the city of Sausalito, a predominately white and affluent community, while MLK is in Marin City, a more impoverished, racially diverse area, home to the majority of Southern Marin’s low-income housing.
The basis of the FCMAT report is that the SMCSD Board and administration played favorites with the two schools, and ultimately worked out a situation that supports the charter WCA more than the public MLK. “The budget comes from the Superintendent and the Chief Business Officer; we just approve it. This budget is formulaic, although the formula is heavily debated,” said Barrow, in defense of the board. “It’s too simple to say that fixing the MLK gap should get all of the board’s attention, and WCA should get none.” Backing up Barrow’s claim is the fact that WCA has plenty of academic struggles itself.
SMCSD, two months after the FCMAT findings were released, published their response to the report. With regards to the suggested spending bias towards WCA, the board wrote: “The per student funding from the District to WCA for 2016-2017, is $8,537 per ADA while the per student funding at Bayside MLK is budgeted at $20,053 per ADA.”
The district also argued: “…roughly equal numbers of students from Marin City attend WCA and Bayside MLK with a tremendously diverse population. About 50 percent of WCA’s 400 enrolled students are also high need, which is more than the entire enrollment at Bayside MLK.” Although this is true, 84 percent of MLK students are high need, which is a lower number of students than at WCA, but a much higher percentage.
FCMAT made a similar report on the district back in 2012, and 80% of those past recommendations have not been fully implemented by SMCSD. FCMAT’s 2012 work on the district seemed eerily similar to their 2016 investigation, as similar topics were pointed out as possible concerns in both reports, such as internal control, budget development, and personnel.
Barrow, who was very familiar with the report, said, “Ninety-five percent of FCMAT’s findings aren’t controversial. Almost all of their recommendations were good ones.” On the trustee’s relationship with WCA, Barrow said, “Three of us on the board have kids at WCA, myself included. However, our lawyers looked at this and said there is no conflict of interest.” Barrow added: “No MLK parents have run for the board, in recent years.” Barrow and the board commit no legal violations, by virtue of having children at WCA. In fact, it’s pretty common for parents to be on local school boards. That being said, a potential problem is that all of their children go to WCA, and none go to MLK, which is still not illegal, but can be used as evidence against a school board suspected of bias.