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Goodrich board dumps 'Race to the Top'

December 23, 2009 - Goodrich-The school board could not muster enough support to sign a memorandum of understanding that would make the district eligible for a share of federal funds earmarked for education.

A motion was presented to the board for discussion on Monday night that would put the district in the running for "Race to the Top" education grant money — a share of $400 million available for more than 700 school districts statewide. Of that, about $43,000 would filter into the district, said John Fazer, school superintendent.

The amount of money will be divvied up according to the Title I funding allocation formula. Title I grants are used to provide supplementary educational and related services to low-achieving children attending schools with relatively high concentrations of pupils from low-income families.

In contrast, Flint Public Schools could receive more than $6 million in funding from the proposed grant.

The Oxford School District, which would receive about $97, 179, voted 7-0 on Monday night to sign the MOU.

Trustee James Bertrand and Board Secretary Doug Tetmeyer were absent from Monday's board meeting.

Several boardmembers balked at the MOU which could be the first step in requiring changes in teacher evaluations, teacher pay, student assessments and leadership at low-performing schools statewide. Complete terms of the grant are yet to be determined by lawmakers.

Built into President Barack Obama's stimulus plan was $100 billion for education—and from that pot of cash announced this past summer was the Race to the Top grant. The concept is to have states compete for the $4.35 billion in grants— to help fill its funding gap after lawmakers slashed more than $200 million from state education coffers.

According to a letter from Mike Flanagan, superintendent of public instruction and Kathleen Straus, state board of education president, sent to school districts earlier this month—districts that don't have a signed MOU by on Jan. 7, 2010 will not be eligible for the federal Race to the Top funds.

"If we choose to go with the MOU we can always opt out," said Fazer. "The state needs the support of the school districts to apply for the grant—the more (districts) that apply, the more points are awarded. The loophole is at anytime we don't have to go along with the grant."

School board members were reluctant to sign the MOU.

"The state is dangling $43,000 in front of us without saying how they are going to get the grant," said Linda Jackson, school board treasurer. "I resent other groups are involved (with our business). It's a backhanded way of going about it."

Jackson and other board members were concerned that to receive money from the federal government they would be required to make changes they may not agree with. Board members questioned how the grant will influence local decisions in the district, including such areas as financial and educational initiatives, curriculum and teacher/personnel policy.

According to the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Race to the Top proposal will be a single integrated education reform plan, aligned with the four reform areas outlined under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – those being: data systems; standards and assessments; teachers/leaders; and support for struggling schools and districts – that will ideally be implemented statewide.

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