Fresno Unified OKs bid for federal funds

Fresno Unified trustees Wednesday unanimously agreed to sign on to California's Race to the Top application -- giving the district and the state a shot at part of the $4.3 billion in federal funds earmarked for school reforms.

Fresno Unified estimates it could receive more than $3 million in funding if the state is awarded its share of funds.

"There's no point in not supporting it," said trustee Janet Ryan.

District leaders already signed a memorandum of understanding where they agreed to the reforms, which are still being ironed out.

But local school board approval -- as well as that of local teachers unions -- gives the state's application more weight in the competition for funds to be made available to states under the Obama administration's initiative.

The district turned in the memorandum first before seeking trustees' approval in order to meet the state Jan. 8 deadline, which came before the board's first meeting this year. The state is expected to submit its consolidated application -- with memorandums signed by 760 districts, charter schools and county education offices -- next week.

The federal reforms are expected to be a major overhaul in school accountability.

California recently passed legislation just so it could compete for the funds.

It would allow state officials to close failing schools, convert them to charter schools or replace the principal and half the staff.

Parents with children in the lowest-performing schools would be given greater leeway to send their children elsewhere.

The measures also provide a method for linking teacher evaluations to student performance, which has been opposed by the California Teachers Association.

Greg Gadams, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, spoke out against signing onto the plan.

He said he didn't have faith in how it would be implemented locally and questioned whether some of the reforms, particularly those linking teacher evaluations to student performance, should be dealt with at the bargaining table.

Trustee Carol Mills expressed similar concern.

Superintendent Michael Hanson said a portion of the reforms would be subject to union bargaining according to the state, but how much is "a conversation we have to have."

Vincent Harris, the district's executive director of accountability, said Fresno Unified needed to sign up to be eligible but there is still room to opt out at a later date.

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