School boards made an impact during Legislative Action Week
For three days in March, more than 370 board members and superintendents representing school districts and county offices of education from across California came together to meet virtually with more than 100 state legislators and their staff.

During CSBA’s annual Legislative Action Week, members brought their lived experience to the Capitol to shine a light on the top issues facing their schools and students. In response to the ongoing health, safety and logistical concerns at the Capitol building in Sacramento, CSBA offered this flagship event virtually for the second year in a row out of an abundance of caution. The virtual format allowed a record number of school board members to share their perspective with legislators in Sacramento.

“As advocates of children and representatives of our communities, meeting with our legislative leaders gave us an opportunity to hone in and convey the pertinent issues that impact our schools and solicit legislative support in addressing them,” said Alma Castro, a member of the Lynwood Unified School District Board of Education. “I had the opportunity to meet our local legislators and region trustees and superintendents, and together we advocated and solicited legislative support and action in addressing district priority issues.”

a bridge over water in the capitol, Sacramento
Key perspectives on CSBA-sponsored legislation
Finally, attendees at Legislative Action Week spoke about two pieces of CSBA-sponsored legislation on elections, Assembly Bill 2584 (Berman, D-Palo Alto) and Senate Bill 1061 (Laird, D-Santa Cruz).

AB 2584 focuses on recall reform and would help ensure information provided to voters by recall proponents and election officials meets standards for accuracy and truthfulness. It also provides districts more flexibility in combining the recall election with the next regularly scheduled statewide or local election. SB 1601 would update voter signature requirements and petition information and the timing of a special election for a voter-driven effort to fill a vacancy on school district governing boards.

Members spoke to what an extraordinarily difficult moment this has been for school board members and asked legislators to vote in favor of these two bills that would offer them support and improve the procedures for special and recall elections.

“Legislative Action Week was instrumental in making sure our small and rural district’s voice is heard by state legislators,” said Erin Asheghian, Loma Prieta Joint Union School District board president. “In recent years, many districts, including my own, have had petitions needing only tens of signatures to threaten expensive special elections that take hundreds of thousands of dollars away from classrooms. This advocacy effort and the continued effort of CSBA has helped with the introduction of SB 1061, which makes the recall of appointed board trustees a more democratic and financially responsible process.”

Investing in the LCFF base and employer pension relief

The local perspective is especially urgent as the Senate and Assembly continue to develop the 2022–23 state budget. Topping the agenda was the push for the state to invest heavily in the Local Control Funding Formula, beyond a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), to ensure that schools can meet rising costs, remain competitive in attracting and retaining high-quality personnel and — most importantly — help improve student academic outcomes and provide for their mental health and well-being.

As inflation and fixed costs for schools continue to rise, the COLA proposed in the Governor’s January budget is appreciated but insufficient. Despite the perception that education received a great deal of new revenue in the last budget, the vast majority of funds are one-time and tied up in categorical programs with eligibility restrictions or in competitive grant programs that many districts do not have the capacity or resources to access or sustain.

Members shared their stories and those of their teachers, staff and students directly with legislators to convey that their schools simply cannot do more with new programs if they are already stretched thin trying to conduct basic day-to-day operations and improve services and course offerings for their students.

Sheldon Gen, a trustee from Petaluma City Schools, emphasized that “advocating with our representatives in state government is a critical part of the job of school board members, because the state determines the budgets of the school districts … the state has the opportunity to support public education the way we value it.”

Another top priority for members was pension relief. With state relief for school employers ending June 30, Legislative Action Week attendees emphasized to legislators that rising obligations will crowd out opportunities to invest in educational programs and urged the Legislature to continue to commit non-Proposition 98 General Fund allocations to help reduce employer contribution rates for CalSTRS and CalPERS in the short and long term.

Members were also able to share their perspective on other top budget issues, including one-time COVID attendance relief to mitigate fiscal instability created by the pandemic. Recognizing that both the delta and omicron variant surges occurred during the 2021–22 school year, CSBA is advocating to allow districts to count their 2019–20 school year (the last “normal” attendance year prior to the pandemic) as a part of the Governor’s declining enrollment proposal. The Governor’s proposal would consider the greater of a school district’s current year, prior year or the average of three prior years’ ADA for purposes of calculating a district’s LCFF apportionment. Lastly, increasing state funding for the home-to-school transportation program to support 100 percent of districts’ approved costs, including capital outlay and bus acquisition, continues to be a critical issue.

As the legislative session continues and budget negotiations between the Legislature and Gov. Newsom move forward, the local perspective and advocacy school board members brought to the Capitol during Legislative Action Week will be pivotal in informing the votes of Senators and Assemblymembers.