Whidbey Island schools reluctant to race to the top

Citing the small amount of money, the time involved and the large numbers of unknowns, the Coupeville School Board decided against participating in the statewide effort to join the Race to the Top.

Washington state wants to receive a $250 million share of $3.4 billion in federal Race to the Top grant money. However, that would trickle down to just $22,000 a year for four years for the Coupeville School District.

Superintendent Patty Page described all of the requirements and changes the school district would need to participate Race to the Top as an “underfunded mandate.”

Race to the Top is the latest federal program to provide schools money to fund education reforms. Because the state doesn’t meet two key requirements of the program, Page said it would be a “long shot” that Washington would receive Race to the Top funding. Washington state currently doesn’t allow charter schools and merit-based pay for teachers, which federal authorities are promoting.

Gov. Chris Gregoire wanted every school district to sign on with Race to the Top to improve the state’s chances of receiving an award. As of Monday’s deadline, 80.9 percent of the school districts in the state are participating in Race to the Top.

“It’s not well thought out on how this will affect the school district and the teachers in the classroom,” school board member Kathleen Anderson said.

The low dollar amount puts school districts such as Coupeville in a tough position. They won’t receive a lot of money from Race to the Top, but they don’t want to be blamed for lowering the state’s chances to receive funding, Page said.

“We don’t want to be the reason why the state didn’t get the money,” Page said during the school board meeting.

Like Coupeville, the South Whidbey School Board decided against applying for the federal money.

The Oak Harbor School District, on the other hand, decided to participate, but with one caveat. Officials will withdraw from Race to the Top if grant money doesn’t cover the costs of participation.

“As of now, it doesn’t appear that the grant will even come close to paying for the training and administration this will require,” Oak Harbor School District Superintendent Rick Schulte said.

None of the school districts on the island would have received a significant amount of money should the state receive a Race to the Top award. South Whidbey schools would receive $36,000 a year for four years while the Oak Harbor School District would receive $148,000 a year for four years.

Page said the reforms the school district would enact have a lot of unknowns. She said the money the school district would receive wouldn’t cover the cost of implementing reforms. For example, the school district would have to adopt new criteria for evaluating principals and teachers. However, she doesn’t know what the new criteria are as they would be developed by the state. Another example is that the district would have to hire a “district-level data instructional improvement coordinator.” She said the school district currently doesn’t have such a coordinator and has no way to pay for one.

“The cost outstrips what we receive,” school board member Don Sherman said, adding he is not interested in implementing a “Band-Aid approach” to get a few more dollars in the schools.

Coupeville School Board members Carol Bishop, Kathleen Anderson, Sherman, Jeff Tasoff and Chris Chan unanimously rejected participating in Race to the Top.

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