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Some capital-area school districts sit out race for federal funds

Susan Notes:

Not mentioned: Lincoln also voted unanimously not to participate. Word must be circulating: These cities are located in close proximity--a bit north of Sacramento. And look at this note from a teacher in Anaheim, in Southern California. I added the emphasis: teachers speaking out. Kudos. Kudos. Celebration.

So far, 14 districts in Orange County California have refused to sign on to RttT.

January 8.--I attended my district's school board meeting this evening because the cabinet was going to present the Race to the Top memo of understanding the purpose of which was to add our district to the list of districts for California's application. I spoke to the board, with another teacher's help. We spoke about how our legislators made poor laws to implement NCLB which undermined good teaching practices from the past and have made us all little drones all reading from the same scripted lesson.

One school board member, Dr. Moreno, a professor from Cal State Long Beach, did his homework and explained how RTTT is most likely going to be the framework for the reauthorization of ESEA, is mostly an unfunded mandate, and has education corporations chomping at the bit for a taste. Well, to my amazement, one board member moved to approve the signing of the MOU and NO ONE SECONDED HIS MOTION. I have never been more proud of my board than that one moment. I know this will not be the end of the discussion, as a second phase of RTTT will begin in the spring, but I am so happy and proud to say that I am a teacher in Anaheim City School District in Southern California.
Virginia Tibbetts

By Diana Lambert

California politicians scurried for months to pass legislation to ensure state schools have a chance to compete for federal Race to the Top stimulus funds. But many local districts have decided to watch the race from the sidelines.

Roseville City Unified Elementary School District, Camino Union Elementary School District and Sutter Union High School District are just a few that have decided not to apply for a piece of the $4.35 billion funding.

Most school districts opting out share the same concern: They just don't have enough information about what will be required of them in exchange for the money.

"Schools are concerned there will actually be greater costs associated with the rules that will be put in place in California vs. the income we will be receiving," said Vicki Barber, superintendent of the El Dorado County Office of Education.

Although the rules for what districts have to report if they get Race to the Top money are outlined in the application, the state has yet to set benchmarks that districts will have to meet during the four years of funding, said Rick Miller, deputy superintendent of state schools.

"No question, there is a little bit of a leap of faith here, but a leap of faith with few consequences," he said, citing a district's ability to opt out of the program later.

On Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that makes California schools eligible to compete for a share of the federal education stimulus funds.

As of Monday, nearly 800 of the state's 1,729 public school districts, independent charter schools and county offices of education had sent word to the California Department of Education that they intended to apply for Race to the Top money.

All 14 Sacramento County school districts are interested.

But districts in Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties are less enthusiastic. Only two of Yolo County's five K-12 districts have said they will apply. A quarter of Placer County school districts haven't shown an interest, and in El Dorado County, only half have said they will participate.

School districts have until today to file a memorandum of understanding with the state, saying they want to take a stab at winning some of the federal funding.

Wednesday night, Roseville City Unified's board voted unanimously to sit out the race. Superintendent Richard Pierucci said the board decided there were too many unanswered questions, concerns about costs associated with reporting requirements and fear of jeopardizing good relations with employee unions.

Districts that receive Race to the Top money will have to base teacher evaluations ΓΆ€“ in part ΓΆ€“ on students achievement. That's not the case in most districts today, and teacher unions have vigorously opposed that proposition.

Even if districts sign on today, they still have 90 days from the day the state accepts the money to opt out of the federal program.

Barber, who plans to apply for Race to the Top funds on behalf of the El Dorado County Office of Education, said she'll pull out of the program during the opt-out period if she finds the program isn't a match for the district or its teachers.

Pierucci, from Roseville, said he doesn't feel comfortable applying for the money even with the opt-out option. "I'm concerned about what type of pressure will be placed on districts that decide to opt out," he said. "It will put the state in jeopardy if too many decide to opt out. There will be a strong encouragement not to do it."

Many superintendents of small districts believe they don't fit into the new program.

"This kind of reform is geared toward urban school districts," said Ryan Robison, superintendent and principal of the 715-student Sutter Union High School District in Sutter County.

Eric Bonniksen, superintendent of the 427-student Camino Union Elementary School District in El Dorado County, said small districts will do the same amount of paperwork as larger districts, but will get a thinner slice of the Race to the Top pie.

"Smaller districts have only one or two people doing everything," said Bonniksen, who also serves as principal in the one-school district.

— Diana Lambert
Sacramento Bee



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