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Grant money in jeopardy

By Aaron Blevins, 11/08/2012

LAUSD races to submit application — without UTLA approval

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Despite a lack of support from its teachers union, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has opted to pursue $40 million in federal Race to the Top funding without the union’s signature.

Students do their coursework on laptops owned by the LAUSD. The district is seeking $40 million in Race to the Top funding. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

The union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), rejected the application because it claims the grant money would inevitably cost the district more than it brought in and had too many strings attached.

“If we were in flush times, the situation might be different, but we have suffered through multiple years of severe budget cuts, and every penny counts,” UTLA president Warren Fletcher said. “We cannot mortgage the future to accept limited-time funding.”

Race to the Top requests that states adopt reforms for standards and assessments, data systems that manage student growth, improving the performance of the lowest-achieving schools and recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers. It is a $4 billion program.

Fletcher said the teacher evaluation requirements outlined in Race to the Top were not an issue, as the union and LAUSD are currently discussing a new teacher evaluation system per a court order.

“As education professionals, teachers are eager for our performance to be evaluated in a meaningful way that offers us feedback and support to improve our practice for the benefit of our students,” Fletcher added.

Despite the union’s rejection, superintendent John Deasy asked the U.S. Department of Education to consider the grant application, saying that he hoped to use the funding to hire hundreds of faculty.

“I want to make the case that here in Los Angeles, after months of trying repeatedly to form a partnership for youth and faculty on this issue, our students should not be penalized due to the absence of a UTLA signature,” he said.

The application did have the support of the district’s board of education, but board member Steve Zimmer, 4th District, said he understood UTLA’s apprehension. He said the grant money could have increased general overhead costs.

“They weren’t technically wrong,” Zimmer said. “That was a possibility.”

However, he said LAUSD officials may be able to apply the funding in a way that reduced overhead costs.

“I just think it would have been good to redefine what Race to the Top could be for a district,” Zimmer added. “I am of the belief that you never throw money away.”

He said he didn’t have any opinion regarding which side is correct on this issue, but lamented the fact that Prop. 30 campaigning kept him from trying to mediate between the two entities. Zimmer said a little give from both sides could have helped reach a compromise.

“I’m very sad about that,” he said.

Zimmer said it is hard to tell how beneficial the funding could be. If the application is approved, it would be the first time in the history of the program that a district will receive Race to the Top funding without its union’s signature, he said.

 

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