Obama’s Race to the Top grant: Some area school district reluctant to join
January 5, 2010
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; In a time when public school districts are struggling with reduced budgets, laying off staff and reducing services, some local districts aren’t eager to sign on with a state plan that could boost funding.
About $700 million could be available to the state under a federal education program called Race to the Top. Federal education officials want the money spent on adopting stricter education standards, better database performance tracking for students and more parental choice for where their children attend school.
Nevada County educators say the details are too vague and the funding may come with too many strings attached.
The Pleasant Ridge Union School District in southern Nevada County and#8212; the county’s largest elementary district and#8212; could see about $30,000 over the next four years, Superintendent Britta Skavdahl said Monday. But the money would pay for new programs for a short period without addressing their future funding, she said.
and#8220;A lot of this is one-time money, and the mandates are numerous,and#8221; Skavdahl said. and#8220;I’d be creating unfunded mandates for myself. Why would I want to do that?and#8221;
A provision in a Race to the Top bill in the California Assembly requires districts are applying for the money to include student progress in teacher evaluations.
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It’s something Ralf Swenson, superintendent of the Nevada Joint Union School District, supports in theory, but details are lacking, he said.
and#8220;There are a lot of things we’re trying to negotiate with our teachers right now,and#8221; including furlough days, Swenson said. and#8220;If we sign on and say we’ll do this before we know what it means, it could be a problem for us.and#8221;
A unique testing system should be used to evaluate teachers, said Jon Byerrum, superintendent of the Grass Valley Elementary School District.
and#8220;We can’t tie principal and teacher evaluations to the current standardized testing system,and#8221; Byerrum said. and#8220;Those tests are a great system-wide look, but they aren’t meant to make decisions on teachers.and#8221;
Educators see some positive aspects to the bill, such as allotting funds for technology in the classroom, Byerrum said.
Superintendents must decide by Friday whether they’ll enter into a tentative agreement with the state Department of Education to receive the funds and implement the bill’s provisions when and if it is approved.
Neither Skavdahl or Swenson said they plan to sign the agreement by Friday, barring an updated bill with much more specific information about mandates. Byerrum said he plans to sign the agreement and#8212; but only because a clause in the agreement allows the district to withdraw at any time before receiving the mon