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State applies for federal Race to the Top grant; Turlock opts out of potential funds

POSTED January 19, 2010 11:49 p.m.
California sent off their application for the Race to the Top grant program to Washington D.C. on Monday and will now be eligible for about one billion dollars in funding, but Turlock will see no money out of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top federal budget.
At the Jan. 5 Turlock Unified School District Board meeting, the trustees voted to jump ship on the potential $750,000 — $88 per Title 1 eligible student — they could get by participating in the Race to the Top grant program.
“It is not in our best interest right now to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (needed for school districts to be eligible for Race to the Top funds),” said Lacrisha Ferriera, TUSD assistant superintendent for educational services. “It is too great of a financial risk for TUSD.”
Regardless of the TUSD’s lack of participation, California has already taken steps to implement Race to the Top requirements for school districts state-wide in hopes of receiving as much money from the grant program as possible. So, although TUSD said “no thanks” to the grant program, they will be required to implement requirements anyway.
Race to the Top requires local education agencies to voluntarily partner with their state through a MOU to implement reforms that would help improve student outcomes. Local education agencies were required to sign the MOU by Jan. 8. Over 800 LEA’s have signed the MOU, including Modesto City Schools, Keyes Union School District and Ceres Unified School District. Although, only six out of the 26 school districts within Stanislaus County are participating in the Race to the Top grant program.
By signing the MOU, school districts are required to create a plan to implement all four priorities required by the Race to the Top grant program.
The four specific priorities for this grant are: Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and in the workplace and to compete in the global economy; building data systems that measure student growth and success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction; recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.
Implementing programs to focus on these four priorities would put a financial strain on TUSD’s budget, without having a secure profit for the district, Ferriera said.
“Entering into binding agreements about how resources will be reallocated at the local level, without knowing whether California will ultimately receive the Race to the Top grant, is a leap of faith and needs to be carefully considered,” reads a position paper district staff created for the TUSD trustees.
Even though the TUSD did not sign the MOU, they will still have to create a plan to implement all four priorities by law.
On Jan. 7, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an education reform that requires all school districts to implement the requirements in SBX5 1 and SBX5 4, whether they signed the MOU or not.
The requirements in the two senate bills implements turnaround strategies in the bottom five percent of persistently low-performing schools, allowing California parents to chose the school that best serves their children by authorizing open enrollment for students in the low-performing schools, the right for parents to petition and require school boards to fix failing schools and creating a student and teacher date system that may be used by local districts to evaluate teachers and principals subject to collective bargaining.
“The district would have to comply with the new legislation regardless of the MOU,” Ferriera said. “The state has until 5 p.m. today (Tuesday) to submit their signed MOU and RTT plan. I am anxiously awaiting information on California’s RTT plan and what it means for districts who signed and didn’t sign the MOU.”
Other reasons for not signing the MOU stating in the position paper prepared by TUSD staff include the prohibitive costs associated with the mandate that requires LEA’s to adopt new instructional materials for English Language Arts in spring 2012, along with new math materials in spring 2013. The cost to implement a new ELA adoption in 2012 will be about $2.5 million, according to TUSD staff. The district is already implementing a new math adoption this school year at a cost of $1.8 million. Adopting new math instructional materials in 2013 would seem unnecessary.
The position paper also stated that “an additional major change will severely affect the morale of district staff.”
Some major changes the district has undertaken lately are a transition from a year round to a traditional calendar, a three percent salary decrease for employees, closure of Crane Elementary School, transition of Osborn to an immersion school,  and the transferring of over 45 employees to new positions within the district.
California will find out if and how much money they will receive from the Race to the Top funds in April.
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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