ANAHEIM â€” At a special Board meeting held January 7th, the Anaheim City School District Board of Education declined to submit the state required Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to participate in Californiaâ€™s application for Race to the Top (RTTT). After a detailed staff presentation on RTTT and thoughtful Board discussion, a motion to submit the state-required MOU signifying the Districtâ€™s intent to comply with all tenets of the Federal RTTT Initiative did not receive a second, thus the motion failed.
The competitive one-time federal grant funding being offered to selected states as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aims to improve academic standards and assessments, expands the use of data to guide instruction, requires federally defined approaches to improving low-performing schools, and includes using student achievement data in teacher and principal evaluation and compensation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides $4.5 billion nationally for Race to the Top. California may be eligible for $700 million. Based on projected estimates, ACSD would be eligible to receive one-time funds of up to $1.5 million over the next two to four years which equals approximately one percent (1%) of ACSDâ€™s operating budget.
While the Board stated its support for many of the initiatives and principles embedded in RTTT, and which ACSD is already implementing, ultimately the Board cited its concerns regarding the risks of signing on to a State Education Plan for RTTT that has yet to be written. This fact created many â€œunknownsâ€ as to what the Board was being asked to commit to and, because the funds are one-time dollars, the Board expressed deep concerns regarding mandated, ongoing costs. While submitting an MOU would have resulted in modest funding, the RTTT requires Districts to agree to comply with all tenets of RTTT including implementing merit pay, subscribing to a narrow and restrictive set of approaches to improving low-performing schools, and the possibility of having to â€œrepayâ€ grant funding if all benchmarks were not achieved.
Ultimately, given the limited time for the Board and staff to study and discuss the full promise and consequences of signing an MOU to participate in RTTT, the Board could not in â€œgood faithâ€ commit to all of the tenets of RTTT. In addition, the District was not able to seek substantive input on RTTT from staff, associations, parents and community. With the release of the state MOU on December 18, Districts were given less than a month over the holiday to examine it.
â€œDistrict staff identified areas we are currently working on that meet the intent of RTTT legislation. These include the use of data to improve instruction, supporting ongoing professional development for teachers and principals, and aligning assessments with standards. RTTT funds had the potential to support many of these initiatives,â€ said Superintendent JosÃ© Banda. â€œThe Board and staff articulated agreement in concept with most of the requirements in the RTTT grant, but the ambiguity in some of those requirements, unknown funding level, unclear exit strategy and rushed timeline made it difficult for approval.â€
Superintendent Banda said the District will continue to discuss RTTT and ultimately develop study sessions and a position paper that outlines ACSDâ€™s stance with regard to many of the issues raised by the Board last night. The Board expressed the need to hold study sessions and further discuss this initiative and its impact on local and state education reform.
â€œBy signing this MOU, it signifies full agreement to comply, in good faith, with the direction federal and state agencies are pushing onto local school districts and public education in general,â€ said Board President Dr. JosÃ© Moreno. â€œWhile our Board believes there is merit in many of the components and embraces the underlying principles of RTTT, given the limited time afforded by federal and state agencies, we have not had the opportunity to fully and responsibly engage as a Board, and with all of our local stakeholders, in a discussion regarding the required mandates contained in RTTT. In addition, there are many details of the grant that are unclear and need to be clearly defined.â€
The District will continue to monitor the RTTT initiative and remains committed to exploring future participation in the initiative. Both the School Board and District leadership expressed confidence that ACSD staff can provide expertise and experience in the discussions on education reform.
Anaheim City School District is a diverse family of 24 schools, serving 19,300 K-6 students in a dynamic, standards-based learning community. As one of the largest elementary school districts in California, ACSD offers a broad range of programs and learning opportunities.