School district says no to Race to the Top

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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After a lively discussion Tuesday, the Western Placer Unified School District board of trustees voted unanimously against signing a memo of understanding for California’s Race to the Top. “This is an attack on public education and I don’t support it,” said board member Paul Long, adding the district is already “going in some wonderful directions in getting kids turned onto reading books and newspapers, and critical thinking.” Race to the Top would provide $4.35 billion nationwide to local educational agencies around the country “to strengthen schools and close the achievement gap,” according to a letter dated Dec. 14, 2009 to California’s superintendents and charter- school administrators from the California Secretary of Education, California State Board of Education and California Department of Education. According to Western Placer Unified School District Superintendent Scott Leaman, the three agencies are writing a grant to receive money from Race to the Top for California’s schools. Leaman said the federal government has the $4.35 billion in its budget and each state has to write a grant application. Each state “will be judged by the federal government” on which states will use the money best based on the federal government’s criteria, and will be awarded the money accordingly. “This is seen as a unique opportunity and the state needs to receive a grant for us to use the money,” Leaman said. Leaman said each participating district would have to develop a work plan to implement Race to the Top. “I hate to leave the potential for a resource but I do think the district is moving in the right direction and it could be destructive to take time and energy to put together a plan that could be used in other processes,” said board member Terry Gage. If signed, the memo of understanding would have meant the district was interested in participating in California’s Race to the Top. Leaman said signing the memo of understanding would also “assist (the state’s) application for funds from the federal government.” Before the board made a decision, Shirley Russell, a former Lincoln teacher and Friends of the Library member, and Mike Agrippino, Western Placer Teacher’s Association presidents, addressed the board. Agrippino said the teacher’s association would not sign the memo of understanding “because we consider our signature an endorsement.” He listed the short time frame given to look over Race to the Top, the “overdependence on one number to evaluate a district, school, class or educator” and the current budget crisis as reasons not to sign. Russell said she “takes issue” with Reach to the Top because “we’re not building readers, we’re building kids that hate books because of teach, test, teach, test.” “We need to take education back into the hands of the local board and not hire corporations to teach us how to teach,” Russell said. “If we put our money into libraries and books, and not into tests and we did that throughout the U.S., we would have kids who enjoyed reading and (are) successful.” After the meeting, Leaman said the board’s decision was appropriate. “We really feel strongly that we’re offering a good program and don’t want to be pulled in a different direction that would derail us from the hard work that it takes on everyone’s part,” Leaman said. “The board recognized that everyone is working hard and focusing on student achievement and assisting students.”