Despite having nixed a contentious equity-based funding model for New Haven Public Schools’ 2016–17 fiscal year, NHPS Chief Financial Officer Victor De La Paz sparked heated debate at a Monday Board of Education meeting as he continued to advocate for more equitable school funding.
BOE member Darnell Goldson, one of the co-chairs of the board’s Finance and Operations Committee, recommended on March 21 at the committee’s meeting that De La Paz and his nine-member school funding committee relinquish efforts to construct this year’s budget using the proposed hybrid equity model, which provided baseline funding to each public school in the district and allocated additional weighted funding to schools considered the most in need, including those with high numbers of students learning English as a second language or students from low-income households. The hybrid equity model was deemed unfeasible due to lack of input from stakeholders in the district and concern over the model’s ability increase equity to NHPS. Although De La Paz and NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said they were “moving past” the equity model for this year’s budget and proceeding with the traditional funding model, De La Paz’s Monday proposal incorporated elements aimed at redistributing school revenue to some higher-need schools.
“The formula-driven equity proposal is tabled for now,” De La Paz said. “We are proposing that significant investments be made in high-need schools, but that it not be systematic across all schools.”
De La Paz added that the board will consider a formula-based systematic approach for future years, which would redistribute funds districtwide. In the meantime, he said, “guideposts related to equity” will direct next year’s budget.
De La Paz’s Monday proposal determined that NHPS would operate on a $435 million budget for fiscal year 2017 — which includes $93 million in-kind from the city, with the rest coming from the state’s general fund, grants and the federal government. The proposal allocates $187 million to district schools, with $175 million funding traditional schools and an additional $7.5 million funding alternative schools, which are available to at-risk students with severe behavioral or psychiatric disorders. De La Paz said $2 million of the net amount of $3 million left over from the general fund should be redirected to the highest-need schools across the district.
But BOE member Edward Joyner, a former NHPS teacher and administrator, said De La Paz’s equity model was “misleading,” arguing that low-income schools already receive state and federal grants, including Title I federal funding.
Goldson took issue with De La Paz’s proposal, expressing frustration that De La Paz continued discussion of the equity model even though it had already been ruled out for this school year.
“We’ve had several long, long conversations about equity. We all agree that this budget doesn’t provide equity. We agreed that we weren’t going to spend a lot of time at this BOE meeting discussing this budget,” Goldson said. “When you make an agreement you stick to it.”
Goldson said the Finance and Operations Committee moved on March 21 for the reapproval of a Feb. 21 motion calling for De La Paz’s use of a traditional funding model and the attachment of a certification on which each school leader will support or contest their schools’ budgets.
The motion, which Goldson said passed unanimously at last week’s Finance and Operations Committee meeting, also encouraged the eventual formation of a committee composed of all NHPS stakeholders — school administrators, parents and students — to develop a methodology for the fiscal year 2017–18 budget.
“We need to account for every penny we spend in this school district, and help the public understand how we’re spending it,” Joyner said. “Equity is already built into our system.”
The BOE will vote on a final budget at its April 11 meeting.