FUSD submits $37.3m federal Race to the Top grant

The Fresno BeeNovember 2, 2012 

Update: Fresno Unified delivered its $37.3 million Race to the Top grant application to the U.S. Department of Education Friday. The move capped a Thursday full of negotiations followed by a night of closed-door meetings by FTA leaders.

On Friday afternoon, standing together inside the Wilson School media center, district officials and leaders of the Fresno Teachers Association said they are at the beginning "of a new adventure" in working together on details for implementing the early education grant they hope to receive.

"This is the beginning of us working together," said FTA President Eva Ruiz.

The union was successful in getting changes to the application, including how teachers will be evaluated, allotting nine days for training and getting aides in kindergarten classrooms.

"This is the beginning of resources going to the teachers," Ruiz said.

Update: The key players in a last-minute agreement early Friday morning allowing Fresno Unified School District to apply for a $37.3 million federal grant will hold a 1:30 p.m. news conference at Wilson Elementary School in west-central Fresno.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin will be joined by Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson and Fresno Teachers Association President Eva Ruiz and other community leaders to talk about the Race to The Top grant application.

The application, which seeks money to strengthen and expand the district's preschool system, will be transmitted electronically to a courier in Washington, D.C., and then hand-delivered to the U.S. Department of Education. The deadline for applying is 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

The department has said that it expects to award 15 to 25 grants totaling $400 million, with the winners announced before the end of the year.

Update: Fresno Unified announced at 2:30 a.m. that the Fresno Teachers Association signed the Race to the Top grant application.

FUSD Superintendent Michael Hanson said on Twitter, "Thank you to FTA work group for developing strong application."

No other details were announced by FUSD, and there was no immediate word from FTA.

Come back to fresnobee.com today for more on this developing story.

12:30 a.m.: Fresno Teachers Association leaders met late into the night Thursday discussing revisions that Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson hoped could lead to their endorsement of a multimillion-dollar federal grant application.

Hanson said early Thursday evening that he was optimistic that more than nine hours of meetings with teacher union leaders would lead to their endorsement of the $37.3 million application.

"I'm very pleased where we are right now," Hanson said outside the Fresno Teachers Association headquarters in northeast Fresno after emerging from the meeting about 6 p.m. While the superintendent shied away from saying an agreement was in hand, Hanson said district officials "would expect to come back and tie this off face to face."

The FTA emerged from its closed-door meeting about midnight to offer a memo of understanding to attach to the application. Hanson, who was camped outside with grant supporters Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Councilman Oliver Baines, went inside for additional discussions. No annoncement had been made as of 12:30 a.m.

The marathon meeting between FUSD and the FTA came just a day before the deadline to submit the application to the U.S. Department of Education. The deadline is 1:30 p.m. today Pacific Time, and district officials said Thursday they would need the signature of FTA President Eva Ruiz by 11 a.m. to make that deadline.

Union leaders have balked at signing the 235-page application, objecting to its new teacher evaluation system based on test scores and state standards, as well as concerns with other working conditions. The Race to the Top application requires the teachers' union sign-off.

Hanson said "a broad variety of issues" had been discussed but declined to name them, saying it was best left to a joint statement that he hoped to make with the FTA.

Ruiz has said the union's executive board also had not been given time to review the document and was handed new pages on Oct. 26, only four days before the original deadline. Thursday evening, Hanson acknowledged that "not everybody on the executive board had read everything all along." But he said he was "very confident we were able to take care of issues."

Community leaders ranging from Swearengin to pastors and business leaders have put pressure on the union to sign the application.

On Thursday, the Children's Movement, a citizen-led, nonpartisan group working to improve the well-being and education of children, released a video encouraging the union to endorse the application. It included statements from Fresno State President John Welty and Fresno County Superior Court Judge David Gottlieb.

Linda Gleason, a manager of the Children's Movement, spent Thursday afternoon and early evening outside the FTA headquarters waiting for the results of the meeting. "Let's get this done," she said. "We need to be able to compete for these resources."

Gleason was joined by Elaine Robles-McGraw, community revitalization manager for the city of Fresno and a member of the district's graduation task force. Robles-McGraw said she was ready to wait.

"This is bigger than all of us," she said. "It's about the children we all have a responsibility to."

Later in the evening, Jymme Foote, president of the West Fresno Ministerial Association, arrived to join the small vigil: "This is a big issue for our community and our children." He said he saw the meeting as an opportunity "for a leap forward in our city's unity."

If Fresno Unified succeeds in getting the union president's signature, it will have succeeded where other districts in the state have failed, including Los Angeles Unified School District.

On Thursday, L.A. Superintendent John Deasy said he was sending off his district's application for a $40 million federal grant without the teachers' union endorsement, the Associated Press reported.

It may be purely a symbolic gesture. Federal Education Department officials said Los Angeles Unified's application will be considered incomplete without the teachers' union support.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher has steadfastly refused to sign the application, citing long-term costs of the programs, the AP reported. Fletcher reiterated his concerns in a statement Thursday, saying the grant would be fiscally irresponsible and would cost more to administer than it would bring in.

Hanson said Thursday night that the Fresno Unified administrative team "came in ready to listen and work out issues."

Fresno Unified proposes using its grant money to improve literacy in pre-kindergarten through third grade classes by teaching students in smaller groups and giving them tablet computers.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, banderson@fresnobee.com or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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