Valley school districts join new race for fed funds

School district officials from Fresno, Clovis and Sanger -- along with their respective teacher unions and a faculty group -- are all supporting California's new application for federal Race to the Top grant funding.

The unified front was displayed Thursday when local officials came together at Fresno Unified's district offices to rally behind the state's second attempt at securing federal education reform funds. If successful, California could receive up to $700 million.

The three Valley districts are part of a group of seven statewide asked by the Governor's Office to help write the state application after the earlier application failed to win funding. The three districts are also among the 289 education agencies statewide, including charter schools and county offices of education, that signed the agreement committing to reform plans.

"We are very excited to be involved with innovation and reform in schools," said David Cash, Clovis Unified's superintendent. Cash was joined by Sanger Unified Superintendent Marcus Johnson and Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson.

The superintendents said they were honored to have such prominent involvement in the state application. In addition to the three Valley districts, superintendents from Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco and Sacramento were involved in shaping the application, which must be submitted to federal education officials by June 1.

The presidents of the Fresno Teachers Association and the Sanger Teachers Association also are supporting the application -- the only two unions in the state to do so. They received strong pressure from the California Teachers Association not to sign the agreement. Clovis Unified's faculty senate also signed the agreement.

Teacher unions have been largely against the reform plans, which they fear could cost teaching jobs by blaming classroom instructors for poor student performance.

But Greg Gadams, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, said it was better to be involved in the reforms, because they will take place with or without union support. "We have the ability to be involved in what it's going to look like," he said.

Gadams pointed out that he did not sign the state's earlier application but opted to do so this time after he was offered the opportunity to be more involved.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Gadams said, noting that he became a target for opposing the CTA. "This ... is different because it defines what an ineffective teacher is and we get to be part of that discussion."

The application largely calls for more accountability and a higher level of collaboration between teachers and districts to improve student learning.

Fresno Unified estimates it could receive about $18 million if the state receives funding. Clovis could get $9 million and Sanger $3.8 million.

The superintendents, who worked with a consultant, said the state application has a better chance of being approved this time because of what was learned in the first round.

But Hanson said work on improving school performance will continue, whether or not the state wins federal funding.

Related stories from Fresno Bee