FUSD has until Friday to submit federal grant application

The Fresno BeeOctober 30, 2012 

12:55 p.m.: Fresno Unified School District learned Wednesday that Friday is the new deadline to submit the district's $37.3 million Race to the Top application.

An Oct. 30 deadline was extended because of the superstorm Sandy, which affected a number of districts on the East Coast.

Fresno has yet to reach an agreement with Fresno Teachers Association for its signature on the application, which the U.S. Department of Education requires.

Community leaders have mounted a campaign this week to try and convince the FTA to sign off on the grant.

The FTA executive board will meet Thursday to discuss the grant application, said FTA President Eva Ruiz. The union takes seriously the community input, she said, but the grant involves working conditions for teachers that are of concern.

Click here to read Fresno Unified's draft Race to the Top grant application. See pages 123-127 for details of the teacher evaluation process.

The Fresno Teachers Association faced mounting political pressure Tuesday as the mayor, county schools superintendent and even the director of the city's housing authority called for the union to sign a $37.3 million federal education grant application.

The union president's signature is needed before the district can apply for Race to the Top funds for early education.

The leadership of the teachers union is concerned about a portion of the application that includes student performance in teacher evaluations, and it appeared this week's deadline for the application would pass without FTA approval. But federal officials pushed the deadline back, possibly to next week, because of megastorm Sandy on the East Coast.

On Tuesday, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and two City Council members appealed to the FTA to return to the table with Fresno Unified officials and sign the application.

"We absolutely love and support our teachers," the mayor said, but added "we think they are getting it wrong" not to sign off.

FTA President Eva Ruiz said the 10-member executive board could discuss the grant application at a meeting Thursday -- but there is no guarantee the union would sign it.

Ruiz said she and the board feel the community pressure, but their loyalty is to the more than 3,000 teachers they represent.

"Do I take what the community is coming out and saying seriously? I absolutely do," Ruiz said. "But I also take what my teachers are saying and take that very seriously."

Teachers have called, sent text messages and emails since Friday, asking the FTA to "be very careful -- look at everything. Don't sign a legal document without everything being upfront," she said.

Other school districts in the state have not submitted Race to the Top applications because teacher groups wouldn't sign off, including Central Unified School District in Fresno County and Los Angeles Unified. San Francisco and Oakland districts also couldn't reach agreement with teacher organizations. Those districts had planned to join in an application with Clovis and Sanger, which were successful in getting teacher support.

Ruiz said there was another problem with the FUSD grant. The FTA executive board didn't get the final pages of the 235-page application until Friday, so they didn't have time to review it, she said.

Community leaders calling for the union's signature also may not have had the opportunity to read the document and understand what is in it, Ruiz said.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said Tuesday the mayor was given a copy of the application. Letters of support from Swearengin and other officials are included in the application, he said.

But Hanson said he did not ask the mayor or other community leaders to lobby the union. "What you're starting to see is grass roots support in support of our teachers and our students," he said.

Those encouraging the union to sign the application said the district and union should reach agreement for the sake of the children.

"Now is the time to set aside adult arguments and disagreements and give Fresno Unified a chance to obtain a much needed infusion of money during these very trying fiscal times in California," Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell said in a written statement.

Hanson has said the FTA has worked with a team from the district for some 65 hours getting the application to this point.

Preston Prince, CEO and executive director of the Fresno Housing Authority, applauded FTA's work so far. Now they should come back to the table and move the application forward. "It's not too late," he said in a statement.

Political issues between Fresno Unified and teachers union officials should be set aside, said Kendra Rogers, executive director of First 5 Fresno County. "We call out to FUSD and FTA to come back together and work out the issues," she said.

At City Hall, Swearengin was joined at a news conference by Council Members Blong Xiong and Oliver Baines, who also urged an FTA-FUSD reconciliation over the issue.

Baines called on both sides to "make this about the children.

"We think it's a big deal," he said. "It's $10 million for four years."

Said Xiong: "Our teachers are local heroes. We've got a window of time and we don't want to miss out."

Hanson said he was optimistic the district and union can work together on the application. "We have a great shot of remedying, fixing any problems that exist," he said. "We just have to get face to face."

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