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BC says yes, BP says no to ‘Race to the Top’

BELLE PLAINE: More time needed for research

By JUDY SCHLESSELMAN

Star Press Union reporter

Belle Plaine Community Schools will not participate in the federal Race to the Top grant program for school improvement.

At a special meeting May 13, the board decided against signing on with the state department of education as it applies for a second-round of grants.

Race to the Top is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education and is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It is designed to bolster student performance by reforming underachieving schools.

Belle Plaine could have received $69,816 over four years, but there was no guarantee.

Belle Plaine is among many districts concerned with Race to the Top requirements. Districts with schools on the lowest-achieving list are required to implement one of four intervention strategies. One of those options is to replace the principal, screen existing staff and rehire no more than half the teachers.

Director Marie Stratford said she had little time to research the program but feels the administrative costs could outweigh any funding the district would receive. She also has concerns about program stipulations.

“There are requirements, and I don’t know totally what they are,” she stated.

The board voted 3-2 against the grant. In favor were board president Joyce Livermore and vice president Don McKinney. Marie Stratford, Mike Bachelder and Jim Pierce voted “no.”

The board unanimously approved Superintendent Bill Lynch’s recommendation to apply for a $67,066 grant for the four-year-old preschool program. This is the district’s third attempt for the grant that would offset tuition expense for parents. Lynch suggested Belle Plaine may have lost out previously because a number of districts with established, grant-funded preschools were awarded additional grants.

In other business, the board hired Kristen Bevins as junior high softball coach. Bevins is a 2009 Belle Plaine graduate and attends Kirkwood Community College. She was on the SICL All-Conference team three years in high school and was voted Most Valuable Player her senior year. She has earned her coaching license.

BENTON: Concerns are explained on federal grant

The Benton Community Board of Directors approved a memorandum of understanding for the “Race to the Top” program at a special meeting held May 12 in Van Horne.

This is a federal grant program the state of Iowa.

Superintendent Gary Zittergruen explained boards wanting to participate must agree to and sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to the participation criteria. He outlined the positives to the program, including: funding for reform programming, participation will be guided by conditional terms, districts can exercise withdrawal options from memorandum if programming would place burden on financial position, and districts should not leave funding dollars on table.

Negatives include Senate File 2023 that requires a negotiation for school improvement plans, unwarranted federal intrusion into local control of education.

The board requested clarification on conditional terms. These include: no obligation to any improvement model, duration clause to undo burden on district finances, Senate File 2033 disagreement on improvement models, and teacher association are not to play a role in administrator evaluation linked to student achievement.

The board questioned Benton’s status on persistently low-achieving schools (PLAS) list for State of Iowa. Benton does not have a PLAS building that would qualify with respect to the lowest 35 buildings identified as a PLAS.

The board questioned participation in round one being low and asked what was different for the second round of application.

Zittergruen shared that a round two survey of 20 schools in the GWAEA Region area reflected that 16 schools would be making application for this round. He shared that the memorandum was an application process only, as Iowa may not be selected in the second round of consideration.

For Benton Community the projected dollars anticipated would be approximately $117,535 dollars. The State of Iowa has indicated that they will sub-grant their round two portion, so that participating schools will receive nothing less than $60,000 dollars for participation.

It was shared that the state will designate $20 million for special projects that guidance and disbursement criteria has yet to be developed.

The board asked what the BCEA concerns were with regard to application. Zittergruen shared the following concerns expressed in the Elements for State Reform Plan section application. The following concerns were noted:

Reservations of Who? What? How? The competency-based credit and content area will be developed to include seat time or computer based assessments. Further clarification on what will be the considered value for multiple authentic assessments. BCEA concerns reflect financial stabilization over four years. What is the sustainability with the improvement process? How will readiness for college be exhibited for higher education if other assessments are done? Who are the researchers in relation to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)?

Concerns also revolve around participation in the memorandum and noted collaboration with teachers’ association and implementation process of achievement models.

The board approved the memorandum.

UPDATED May 18, 2010 9:52 AM

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