San Mateo County should expand the availability of technical classes for high school students and aggressively pursue ways to fund the program, according to a civil grand jury report recommending the changes to the Office of Education and high school districts.
The report released yesterday noted that even President Barack Obama recognizes the need for education alternatives and estimated that 30 percent to 35 percent of county students either do not graduate high school or go on to higher education.
A County Office of Education spokeswoman said technical education is a “huge priority across the state and for us” but that funding and availability are not as simple as the grand jury makes it seem.
“It’s a big issue and there’s a lot to look at. On one level it’s simple — here’s what our kids need and we feel it’s important. But if you put it across the landscape of all the other structures, like the infrastructure beneath the money, you see that implementing good governance means money is just one thing,” said Nancy Magee, administrator of board support and community relations.
The grand jury said in 2007, the County Board of Education unanimously agreed to apply for a $109,400 federal grant for its adult program but never actually did so. The jury further contends that in 2012-13, more than $43.7 million in federal money was available for technical training. Based on the amount received by the equivalent-sized Tulare County Office of Education, San Mateo County stood to receive about $620,933 which would have pushed up its revenue by about 9 percent.
But Magee said the COE did apply as part of a consortium because of its small size but its piece of the grant was small and highly restricted. The next year the consortium dissolved, leaving the office unable to apply on its own even if it wanted to.
Another structural change came in 2006, when a new law required 90 percent of attendees be high school students rather than adults. The shift meant more classes could be on high school campuses but the bulk remain in the Sequoia Union and San Mateo Union high school districts. Many districts say they would welcome more classes but don’t have enough money or knocked the occupational program down the priority list in response to the 2007 budget freeze, according to the jury.
In 2011-12, the last full year reported, the regional occupational program’s enrollment was 93 percent high school students — 3,425 — and 7 percent, or 242, adults.
More change is in the works, too. The governor’s overhaul of K-12 funding expanded local control and eliminated funding of technical programs at all but 12 counties, including San Mateo. The county’s money is spared for the next two years but the local funding formula means it could be used for other purposes.
The jury used this change as another reason to maximize funding opportunities like seeking federal and state grants and underwriting by the business community.
The jury also recommends the County Office of Education document its fundamental policies using state and federal guidelines on evaluating success, establishing accountability and responding to changing economic demands. The school districts are asked to work with the county office to expand their curriculum or document why they aren’t and require guidance counselors to consider discussing technical classes with each student.
Magee said education officials need to take a long-range view on funding and curriculum priorities which includes realizing that more classes mean more teachers.
Civil grand jury reports carry no legal weight to mandate change but recipients must respond in writing within 90 days.
The full report is available at www.sanmateocourt.org/grandjury.
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