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Report Finds School District’s Child-Care Programs Need Improvement

FCMAT presents a series of recommendations, and cites a lack of oversight as its central concern

In yet another thick, recommendation-heavy report to the Santa Barbara school board, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team reviewed a large district program and found it in need of improvement. This time, it’s the child-care programs.

A cost analysis and review of job descriptions, contract agreements and other specifics of the district’s four programs were fodder for the 200-page document.

Mary Barlow, a deputy administrative officer with FCMAT, presented Tuesday evening the recommendations to the board that are more about improvement than a complete overhaul, unlike the organization’s previous presentation on the special education department.

Cal-SAFE, HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters), ASES (After-School Education and Safety) and the school-age child development program operate mostly independently from the district, and the report says they lack strategic direction and thereby “do not necessarily meet the needs of the children they serve.”

The lack of district oversight was FCMAT’s big problem with the program.

While the number and types of programs are commendable, measurable results aren’t evident or documented, according to the report. It said the programs have ineffective leadership, as fiscal, personnel and overall goals are disconnected from the district, and the organization “lacks clarity and does not distinguish staff roles and their assigned responsibilities.”

“We haven’t done our job,” board president Ed Heron said, referring to the report’s calling-out of a district leadership problem.

Worries over volatile state and federal funding have certainly fueled the fire, but Barlow said the district provides some service levels that are above what is required, and should seriously examine cutting costs through contract renegotiation and reorganizing the staff structure.

Naturally, it’s a touchy subject — saying some staff are overqualified and overpaid will be a tough message to sell, board member Bob Noel said. FCMAT included suggested a staff structure — which is designed to make the programs more efficient and more centralized with district goals — and salary schedules in its report.

Some programs may do more than what’s required, but the district should keep its overall goals in mind, board member Annette Cordero said.

Santa Barbara Teachers Association President Layne Wheeler applauded the charge to thoroughly review the program, but balked at the issue of cutting back on the quality and quantity of staff. He said taking the people who make the program work — teachers, aides and support staff — and asking them to be paid less isn’t a good idea.

Board members said the report obviously focuses on areas in need of improvement, and thanked staff for the program’s successes.

The report states that there are opportunities for better utilizing classrooms, monitoring each site’s progress, eliminating some program overlap, cost savings and overall program alignment with more district oversight.

Now, the district most likely will discuss an implementation plan. How state funding plays out will already affect next year’s programs, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision eliminates funding for child-care assistance, except for state-funded preschool or after-school programs. HIPPY is already in danger of closing barring a $100,000 miracle by August, according to a previous district news release.

Noozhawk previously reported on local school districts’ necessary budget cuts as the June 30 budget deadline neared.

FCMAT was created in 1992 through legislation to give business-related advice and reviews to educational agencies in California, including financial and management-oriented advice.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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