Eagle Rock Elementary School faces Title I budget cuts

Signage welcomes students above the entrance of Eagle Rock Elementary School on Fair Park Ave, Los Angeles, Ca. Friday, April 12, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

Parents of Eagle Rock Elementary School (ERES) students gathered at the Eagle Rock Recreation Center April 8 to discuss a recently announced budget cut of $125,000, set to go into effect for the coming 2019–2020 school year. ERES is losing this money because the school no longer qualifies for funding from Title I, a federal program that provides financial assistance to schools with low-income students. Former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board member, city council and state assembly member Jackie Goldberg, who is currently a candidate in a two-way runoff for the vacant seventh seat on the school board, was present at the meeting to field questions about Title I and the funding cuts facing ERES.

According to Goldberg, Title I does not have enough funding to provide full financial support to all schools nationwide with low-income students.

“There’s not enough money in the system, period. So districts are always left with this terrible dilemma: if you don’t have enough to serve all eligible students, then what?” Goldberg said.

Although Title I is a federally-funded program, school districts are responsible for setting the standards used to determine which of their schools receive the available money. In LAUSD, only schools with 50 percent or more low-income students qualify for funding. This year, ERES dropped to 49.01 percent.

According to ERES parent Emily Carlin, this is a difference of fewer than 10 students.

“The swing is minimal, and yet the impact to our school is exponential,” Carlin said.

Even though ERES no longer meets the Title I qualifications, 371 out of the school’s total 757 students are considered low-income. This is a larger number than many schools who did qualify for Title I funding for next year, according to Goldberg. However, ERES is significantly larger than many of these schools, resulting in the overall percentage being smaller.

“Those kids deserve to have some help,” Goldberg said. “We do not need to just say to them, ‘Well, sorry, we have this arbitrary standard and you missed it by a handful of kids and too bad, lots of luck.’”

As a result of the decrease in Title I funding, ERES will have to make significant cuts for the next school year, according to the school’s Title I Coordinators Myra Oliva and Susie Avakian. The coordinators said ERES will no longer have a librarian, two out of the five current teaching assistants will be cut, intervention programs that provide students with additional support after school will end and teachers will have fewer opportunities for professional development. Oliva said she foresees this creating challenges for the school’s performance.

Students play at Eagle Rock Elementary School’s playground on Fair Park Ave, Los Angeles, Ca. Friday, April 12, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

“We’ve been a high-performing school and we want to keep up those standards, but everyone is concerned about how we’ll be able to do that without our infrastructure,” Oliva said.

The $125,000 set to be cut from the ERES budget is only part of the total $244,000 Title I funding the school currently receives. For the next year, they will still get the remaining $119,000 through the program, according to Oliva.

“Even though we didn’t meet the 50 percent mark, they’re kind of giving us a grace period so we’re not fully stripped,” Oliva said. “But if we don’t pull our percentage up after that, we lose it completely.”

Oliva said that she believes the situation at ERES is reflective of a trend in the greater Northeast Los Angeles community.

“A lot of nearby schools are in similar situations,” Oliva said. “Housing prices have skyrocketed and the demographics are changing.”

The diversity of the area surrounding ERES is one of the aspects that influenced Carlin’s initial decision to send her children to ERES.

“Right now our school is a really socioeconomically diverse school. I think that’s one of the things that’s the most magical about it, because it’s reflective of our actual community,” Carlin said.

However, as the makeup of the community changes, Carlin said she is concerned about how the school and its funding will be affected.

“I think that the conversation around gentrification is going to continue and I don’t think we can rescue this money forever unless we change the whole structural system of how we fund schools,” Carlin said. “But I think that because it is so much money, we have to figure out if there is anything we can do to hold it steady and at the same time develop our long-term plan.”

At the April 8 meeting, Goldberg said that she believes systematic change is needed to address underlying issues with public school funding. However, she encouraged parents to take action in the meantime by coming together with similarly-situated schools and contacting their representatives. According to Carlin, parents have already started exploring ways to advocate for their school. ERES is located in LAUSD Board District 5, the district in which the vacant board seat will not be filled until a runoff election May 14, so parents have had to look for other avenues to voice their opinions.

“We’ve been trying to figure out who can listen to us without representation right now,” Carlin said. “We have some plans we’re working on, including contacting the Title I coordinators and also trying to help build a case for more adult staff and assistant principal time on our campus.”

Carlin said she is optimistic about the impacts that the community’s efforts could have.

“I’m really excited to see what our parents can do. I don’t just mean our parents at Eagle Rock Elementary, I mean our parents in LAUSD. I feel like this is a really exciting part of being part of public schools, using our voice as voters and parents,” Carlin said.