Fresno Teachers Association leaders failed Friday to sign off on a $37.3 million grant application, putting in doubt whether Fresno Unified can meet the federal government's Monday deadline.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said at a hastily called Friday evening news conference, "We were shocked, and I think I'm speechless."
But Greg Gadams, FTA vice president, said the district didn't give the executive board the final pages of the 191-page Race to the Top application until Friday.
"I don't think anyone would fault us on not signing something we didn't get to fully read," he said.
And union President Eva Ruiz said Friday night that concerns about how grant stipulations might dictate the way teachers are evaluated weighed heavy on the FTA.
"This was a very, very hard decision for our FTA board to make, but we did and we're going to stand by it," Ruiz said.
Union leaders spent Friday trying to come up with application language that both the district and teachers could agree to, but in the end, Ruiz said, "We just couldn't sign off on this grant because of the implications it had on evaluations."
Ruiz said the FTA board's decision wasn't unanimous. She described the end of the meeting: A board member made a motion to not sign the application, and the motion failed. "Then there was no other motion that came forward."
While this would have been the district's third time applying for the federal education improvement funds, it would have been the first to be submitted solely by the district.
In 2010, the state submitted an application, and in 2011, a group of districts jointly applied for funds. Both times, the applications were denied.
The district has until Monday to submit its Race to the Top application to the U.S. Department of Education. But, Hanson said, the district's San Francisco-based consultant said the FTA sign-off was needed by Friday in order for the district to meet its deadline.
Fresno Unified had hoped to get the four-year Race to the Top funding to support pre-kindergarten to third grade literacy programs for about 26,000 students, with an emphasis on personalized education.
The federal program doles out billions of dollars to school districts that present "ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling and comprehensive education reform."
Hanson said that district officials and union leaders had met for about 65 hours to iron out details and differences. The collaboration was unprecedented between the two, he said.
At Wednesday night's meeting of the Fresno Unified school board, Ruiz said the union still was reviewing the application but acknowledged collaborating with the district on the document.
FTA member Mai Summer Vue, who is in a contested election with Ruiz for the union presidency, told trustees at Wednesday's meeting that union members had not had a chance to see the document and said she hoped they would not sign it.
The school board approved the application on a 4-2 vote with trustees Larry Moore and Michelle Asadoorian objecting because they had not read the application.
Friday night, Vue said she did not know why the union signature was withheld on the Race to the Top application, but the contested president's election could have been a factor.
"It's premature to ask any of us, whether it's me or Eva, to sign this application," Vue said. "We're still in the middle of an election and a lot of our members, including myself, are not fully aware of this Race to the Top and what it entails."
Vue said the California Teachers Association will count ballots Monday to determine who is going to be the next FTA president.
Gadams said the contested presidency had nothing to do with the executive board's decision on the Race to the Top application.
"Our organization is not just the president," he said. "The president doesn't make all the decisions."
Hanson said he was not privy to the union's discussions Friday and its reasons for not signing the grant application, but the contested presidency "certainly does not help."
He said he had been confident Fresno Unified stood a good chance of being awarded a Race to the Top grant. The district was one of just two dozen districts contacted by the U.S. Department of Education with offers to help with the application process.
Said Hanson: "We were positioned as well as anyone in America."