Fresno Unified School District is out of the running for a $37.3 million federal Race to the Top education improvement grant.
After dramatic last-minute negotiations and a public campaign to pressure the teachers union to support the application, the district failed to make the list of 61 finalists released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education.
Central, Clovis and Sanger Unified districts also were shut out. Lindsay Unified was the only central San Joaquin Valley district and one of four districts in California to be among the finalists. The federal government will award $400 million to 15 to 25 school districts by the end of the year in four-year grants of $5 million to $40 million.
Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell congratulated Lindsay Unified for its spot on the list, but expressed disappointment over the snub to Fresno, Central, Clovis and Sanger.
I think the federal government needs to re-look at how they qualify school districts in California for grants, he said. We have such a different population here in Fresno, with high poverty, that those kind of statistics and demographics must be taken into account.
Sanger Unified Superintendent Marc Johnson said he was incredulous that the region of the highest level of poverty, the lowest level of parent education in America was overlooked. Sanger applied for funds to improve math education in grades four through eight, as did Clovis.
Central Unified Superintendent Michael Berg noted that no district in the metropolitan Fresno area made the finalist cut. Lindsay, with 4,100 students, is among the smaller districts in the Valley.
Central had a strong application, Berg said. The district applied for $27.2 million to add counselors, coaches, instructional aides, electives for students and laptops for students and teachers. He wouldnt speculate as to why the application did not advance. The district barely made the application deadline, with a staffer flying overnight to Washington, D.C., to hand-deliver it just hours before the deadline.
Emotions were so raw over a provision to tie teacher evaluations to student performance that the president of Centrals teachers union resigned from both the union and teaching after signing the application. The unions membership had voted overwhelmingly against it.
Fresno Unified also overcame teacher union reluctance over evaluations to submit an application on the final day, winning the unions support by agreeing to negotiate how test scores would be used to evaluate teachers.
Failure to be among the finalists clearly stung Superintendent Michael Hanson.
Hanson said Monday he was disappointed for our city and our kids and for the deep investment we could have made in their education.
Fresno Unified was the largest school district in California to submit an application, and it led a very public campaign in the final days before the Nov. 2 application deadline to get the Fresno Teachers Union to support it. With only hours to spare, FTA President Eva Ruiz signed the document.
Ruiz joined Hanson in expressing disappointment Monday. The teachers association and the district put a lot of hard work into it, she said.
Ruiz and Hanson said all was not lost.
Ruiz said, We will continue to work with the district for the students, the teachers and the parents, and Hanson said, There was a lot of good, positive work we have done, and were going to build on that.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who along with business and faith leaders, had pleaded with district and union officials to negotiate and come to terms, said the U.S. Department of Education made a huge mistake in excluding Fresno Unified: I dont understand how our application could be overlooked. Im hopeful we may be competitive for future federal grants.
The 61 Race to the Top finalists were picked from 372 applications. Besides Lindsay Unified, the three other California finalists are Animo Leadership Charter High School in Inglewood, Galt Joint Union School District and New Haven Unified School District in Union City.
These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a news release. This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists.
The department said applications were randomly assigned to three-person panels that independently read and scored each. The reviewers scores were averaged to determine an applicants score. The top 61 applications were selected as finalists.
Lindsay Superintendent Tom Rooney said he was encouraged that the districts application had made it to the finals.
The district applied for $10 million to accelerate its performance-based education system that allows students to work at their level and advance when they have demonstrated proficiency in required skills.
We believe we have a very innovative system being developed, Rooney said. The foundations are in place with promising results.
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