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State Board of Education delay of grant awards causes frustration

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 at 7:23 pm in Education, Hayward school district, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakland school district, San Lorenzo school district, Theresa Harrington, West Contra Costa school district.

By Theresa Harrington

There is no new information today from Sacramento about whether the U.S. Department of Education supports the state’s method for prioritizing which districts should be awarded School Improvement Grants.

“The department is still in conversations with the U.S. Department of Education and there’s been no word as to what their decision is or rescheduling of a date for the state board to take action,” department spokeswoman Maria Lopez told me late this afternoon. “The point of the grant is to get the money to the schools, so it’s very important that they act quickly.”

The state Board of Education decided to postpone awarding about $311 million in grants Monday, after some trustees and district representatives said the selection process was unfair.

Districts that sought money for all of their lowest-achieving schools were given priority over those that only applied for some of their campuses, according to the state Department of Education recommendation. This means some districts with highly rated applications could be aced out of funding by others with applications that scored lower, but include all low-performing schools.

Here’s a breakdown of the recommendations for East Bay schools:

Priority One
San Lorenzo: Score: 96.00.
Requested: $1.6 million. Recommended: $1.6 million
School:  Hillside Elem. 

Hayward: Score 88.41.
Requested $25 million. Recommended: $10.3 million
Schools:  Burbank Elem., Longwood Elem., Tennyson High (funded)
Harder Elem. (not funded)

Priority 2

Mt. Diablo: Score:  97.50    
Requested $15.4 million. Recommended: $0
Schools:  Bel Air Elem., Shore Acres Elem., Glenbrook Middle School, Rio Vista Elementary
(Schools not included: Meadow Homes Elem. and Oak Grove Middle)

West Contra Costa: Score: 95.50
Requested: $6 million. Recommended: $0
School: Lincoln Elem.     
(Schools not included: De Anza High and Helms Middle School)

Oakland: Score: 92.78
Requested: $9.5 million. Recommended: $0
Schools: Elmhurst Community Prep., United for Success Academy and Explore Middle (closing)
(Schools not included: Alliance and ROOTS academies)

As you can see, Mt. Diablo’s application scored higher than San Lorenzo’s and the West Contra Costa and Oakland district applications were rated more highly than Hayward’s. Some trustees and district representatives argued districts shouldn’t be penalized for failing to include all their low-performing schools in their applications and should be prioritized by scores alone.

Even though they knew they wouldn’t get top priority, they argued, they weren’t under the impression the suggestion to include all schools was a mandate that would end up excluding them from receiving awards. Some trustees and members of the public suggested reducing the awards so they could be spread to more districts.

A few trustees seemed especially concerned that the Los Angeles and Oakland districts were not recommended for any funding. Los Angeles representatives argued that if they had included all of their lowest-performing schools, there would be very little money left over for anyone else.

Instead, they said, they chose schools that would benefit the most from reform and submitted applications that were well thought-out.

Confusion over how the grants should be distributed is causing frustration among districts recommended for funding, as well as those that aren’t.

Dennis Byas, Superintendent of the San Lorenzo district, wrote in an e-mail today that it appears small districts are undervalued by some.

“I’m not exactly sure when the needs of a school in a smaller school district became less significant than that of a larger school district,” he wrote. “Speaking on behalf of many smaller districts; we do not have a problem with the weighing of funds; however we do have serious concerns when the entire process is thrown out because a larger district didn’t apply, misapplied or simply doesn’t like the results.”

He said his community worked extremely hard on its grant application and is still hoping to receive funding before school starts.

“I would suggest that the State Board of Education call for Special Board meeting ASAP and resolve this issue quickly so children don’t lose out because of politics,” he wrote.

Lopez said the board will likely call a special meeting when the state Department of Education decides whether to amend its recommendations.

Mt. Diablo trustee Gary Eberhart told me today that it makes no sense to require districts to include all of their lowest-performing schools in their applications, if they don’t believe it’s in their best interests.

“In my opinion, it should be based on the merits of the programs that they’re in applying to fund,” he said. “So, it would make sense to me that grant dollars be provided to programs that have an action plan that is the highest rated, so that dollars are being spent on programs that are going to be successful.”

Eberhart said this is just another example of the state’s failure to adequately fund schools.

“It shouldn’t be a lottery as to whether a school district is provided dollars,” he said. “Our kids need those dollars and to put us at the back of the line is an abomination.”

The complete list of recommendations is at http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/yr10/agenda201008.asp under item 4 in attachment 8.

Do you agree with the state’s recommendations?

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  • Doctor J

    I thought the Board had authorized the Supt to file for all six schools. Perhaps I misunderstood. But why would’t MDUSD being so cash strapped have applied for all six schools ?

  • tharrington

    Mt. Diablo officials said the four reforms they had to choose between to be eligible for the grants were too restrictive in some instances.
    If they had sought funding for Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle School, they would have had to put new principals at those campuses. Instead, they opted to come up with less drastic plans for reform.
    At the time, Trustee Gary Eberhart and Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the district would not make plans it didn’t think would help the schools, just to get the money: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2010/03/24/mdusd-may-not-chase-carrots-dangled-by-state/

  • Realia

    “Trustee Gary Eberhart and Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the district would not make plans it didn’t think would help the schools, just to get the money.”

    Really? This is exactly what they did regarding Measure C. I guess the district only wants cash when it can benefit unspecified construction projects but not when it benefits students.

  • tharrington

    It is interesting that the Measure C poll asked voters if they would approve a $300 million bond measure, then the district tacked on another $48 million at the last minute.
    In contrast, the Martinez board decided to reduce its November bond measure from $51 million to $45 million, after carefully considering how much they really needed.
    Pete Pedersen told me in a July 29 e-mail that many details still need to be worked out regarding the projects to be completed.
    “There are no more ‘detailed’ lists,” he wrote. “The details will be specified only as we begin working with sites developing their programs in the design phase of the Measure C Program. Some of the sites sent in specific requests (e.g. additional computer lab conversions, career ed requests, like NGHS, etc.), some sites did not request anything and, as you are aware most sites did not submit anything at all for ‘tech classroom enhancements.’ Recognizing that sites have diverse program and classroom tech needs, and using rough estimates of various classroom improvement/enhancement iterations/programs we established an average sq. ft value that could reasonably (be) used as an allocation value. This sq. ft allocation was then applied uniformly to each site based on verified sq.
    footage to establish a site allocation for this category. The specific tech classroom enhancements will vary site by site, depending on site needs, program and curriculum. We want to be responsive to site needs, allowing them to exercise some discretion and not unilaterally impose pre-identified improvements. As the design phase begins we intend to report out, and post all site-specific improvements. Absent the opportunity to have meet (sic) with the sites for programnming and design phase input yet, I cannot speculate what each detailed improvement might be at each site.”
    These unspecific “technology classroom enhancements” make up nearly $13 million of the total $202 million in expected improvements.

  • Realia

    At my school site we received funds to build a technology center, which has been underutilized, and no funds to replace or update equipment or such items a LCD projector bulbs (they must be paid for out of skimpy department funds). In meeting after meeting, administrators touted what technology enhancements would be next while ignoring questions about how to support and sustain the ones we already have. We also received well over $100,000 from Comcast to construct a music recording studio, which has sat unused for years now (no teachers know how to use it and when it was used, it was mainly so kids who never showed up for school came in after school to make raunchy rap recordings). Typical district short-sighted “planning.”

  • tharrington

    Perhaps some of the electricity bill savings the district expects to receive from the solar projects could be used toward maintenance and operations of the technology enhancements, as well as training for staff, so the technology will be used effectively.

  • Doctor J

    When the Star results are released in the next week or so, pay attention to the results for Meadow Homes Elem and Oak Grove Middle to see if Rose Lock and Steve Lawrence’s decision to leave those principals in place was worth it to cause loss of the SIG funding for the other four schools. Can you imagine how furious the other four “peristently underchieving schools” feel knowing that they are likely going to lose out on funding to save two principals from underperforming schools ? Also pay attention to the seven potentials to be added. With six “peristently underchieving schools” already, MDUSD already has the greatest percentage in the East Bay, and will likely add to that with several more. Its a tragedy for the kids because district administrators protect “underpeforming principals”.

  • Doctor J

    Looks like Lawrence dodged a bullet as the State will fund the four school improvement grants. MDUSD has the STAR results. Most likely it has dumped the data into its analysis program to estimate the API’s. Have you heard any cheers from the Dent Center ? Probably its going to be more like a funeral parlour. Will all six of the “persistently underperforming schools” remain on the list ? How many more will be added to the list ? Was Lawrence’s and Lock’s decision to keep those two principals in place justified by their 09/10 STAR results ? If not, what ACTION are they going to take with those principals ?