Vernon M. Billy CEO & Executive Director
he defining moment of 2021 was the welcome sight of students across California returning to campuses, many for the first time in more than a year. After much research, planning and anxiety, in-person instruction resumed statewide. What resulted was a year of great triumphs, occasional setbacks and continued challenges for California’s public schools.
As refreshing as it is to have students walking the halls again, the pandemic still casts a long shadow over school activities. Reacclimating students to in-person instruction while taking extraordinary measures to ensure their safety and attend to their physical and mental health was no small task. The role of school boards — never easy, even in the best of times — became even more complicated as trustees grappled with the latest phase of the pandemic.
Recognizing the challenges facing school districts and county offices of education, CSBA focused on both the immediate needs of schools returning to in-person instruction as well as the policy framework and resources needed for the long-term success of California public schools. Whether at the Capitol, in the courts, or through virtual trainings, events and webinars, CSBA dedicated the past year to supporting school board members and advocating for the tools needed to serve students during this unprecedented time.
While focusing on the current moment, CSBA also continued to address longstanding issues for public schools and even introduced new services that will benefit members long after the pandemic ends. Most notably, we introduced CSBA District and County Office of Education Legal Services, which allows us to establish attorney–client relationships with our members and offer legal advice — something we receive requests for every day.
CSBA Legal Services is designed to provide local districts and COEs individual legal representation just as our Education Legal Alliance has long provided representation on a statewide level. In 2021, the ELA saved millions of dollars for California schools, challenged erroneous decisions by the State Controller’s Office that denied schools $1 billion in funding, and advocated for public school interests on issues related to internal communications, state mandates, special education, tort liability, First Amendment rights, lease-leaseback agreements, Proposition 39 facility costs, and access to developer fees.
CSBA’s aggressive advocacy in 2021 was not limited to the courts. In the Capitol, we achieved significant victories for members by eliminating all apportionment deferrals, securing a 5.07 percent cost-of-living adjustment and a 4.05 percent COLA for special education, additional Proposition 98 monies to pay for transitional kindergarten expansion, dedicated funding to reduce employer pension contributions, and $6 billion for broadband at a critical time for California’s public schools.
CSBA also expanded services in recognition of the exceptional demands that local educational agencies are facing. In the past year, we increased the size of our training faculty, revised and enhanced our curriculum and delivery options to make the courses more accessible and more topical, retained new partners and affiliates to provide critical COVID-19 mitigation services, and produced a series of webinars on topics of particular importance in the COVID era.
We know the past two years have been challenging and that LEA boards have been presented with an almost impossible task and plenty of unfair criticism. The hard work, resourcefulness and initiative you have demonstrated in navigating a pandemic and resuming in-person instruction have too often gone unnoticed. Determined to reverse that trend, CSBA launched a special multimedia campaign called School Boards in Action to highlight the actions trustees have taken to support students under the most difficult circumstances ever experienced by public schools.
From expanded learning initiatives to wellness centers, mental health services to food distribution, school and county trustees have stepped up to serve students and families in a time of crisis. CSBA values these efforts and is proud to showcase the hard work of our members through the videos, radio and internet ads, blog posts and feature articles that comprised the School Boards in Action campaign. In 2022, we will continue to elevate the essential work that trustees are doing to provide California students with a high-quality education and press onward with the advocacy needed to strengthen schools and create the conditions for student success.