October 30, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
40°F

Four school districts eligible for funding

Four of the county’s seven school districts were notified this week they are eligible to receive Race to the Top funding, but they are still waiting to learn exactly what that means.

“We just have to wait and see when the money’s coming, when it will be available and what we have to do to qualify to get our share,” Buckeye Superintendent Dennis Honkala said Friday. The participating districts— Brunswick, Buckeye, Clover¬leaf and Highland — plan to have discussions with the Ohio Department of Education to find out more about the grants next week.

Regardless, the districts said they’re looking forward to possibly receiving the money, which only can be put to certain uses such as teacher development.

“Anytime somebody wants to give us some money to do some professional development, it’s a great thing. … We just need to go through and make sure it’s a good thing for Brunswick,” Brunswick Superintendent Mike Mayell said.

The “Race to the Top” program, part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, rewards states for making ambitious changes to improve struggling schools.

The U.S. Department of Education announced this week Ohio was one of the 10 recipients in the second round of Race to the Top funding. Ohio’s share is $400 million, which will be divided among 538 participating districts and charter schools based on a formula from the federal government.

The participating districts in Medina County will receive a total of about $667,000: $100,000 each for Buckeye and Highland, $157,000 for Cloverleaf and $309,000 for Brunswick.

School district superintendents, board presidents and union representatives had to sign a memorandum of understanding with the state in the spring in order to qualify for the funding. The memorandum pledged support for the plan the state pitched to the federal government to receive the award.

The plan includes requirements in several areas, including using data to improve instruction; improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance; ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals; providing effective support to teachers and principals; and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

The Ohio Department of Education reported about 60 percent of school districts throughout the state signed the memorandum. Three Medina County school districts — Medina, Black River and Wadsworth — did not sign it.

Medina Superintendent Randy Stepp said in a statement there were too many strings attached the funding.

“As a district, we evaluated the ongoing requirements for participation in the program and became very concerned that due to our current financial situation we would not be able to sustain and manage the programs that might have been developed after the funding for the program ended,” he said.

He said implementing the programs required by the grant could cost double the district’s projected grant, about $200,000 over four years.

Black River Superintendent Janice Wyckoff said the district signed the memorandum for the first round of Race to the Top funding, but did not for the second round.

“I think it was some of the things that are in Race to the Top are a little bit more than the union was willing to take on,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education explained that each district will have 90 days to submit its own plan for how it will implement the requirements.

“What one district does to meet their … obligations may look different from what another district does,” Julie Daubenmire said.

The state ultimately will approve each district’s plan.

One of the more controversial items detailed in the state’s plan involves linking student performance to teacher and principal evaluations.

Catherine Aukerman, superintendent of Highland Local Schools, said there are many ways the district can implement that.

“Really what we’re committing to is exploring a variety of options as it relates to the teacher,” she said.

All the county districts approved for Race to the Top funding have asked voters for money this year or will be doing so in November. Brunswick is seeking to renew a levy in November. Highland had two failed attempts at a levy this year and plans to try again next year. Buckeye is on the ballot with an earned income tax in November. Cloverleaf is seeking to renew a levy for permanent improvements and pass a new one for operating expenses in November.

The superintendents said Race to the Top money isn’t a solution to their financial situations.

“Certainly it would be nice to have some additional money to have professional development when the district is struggling financially,” Aukerman said. However, she said the money is restrictive in its allowable uses. For example, the district would not be able to use it to bring back any of the 43 employees it has laid off in the last year.

“We appreciate the drop in the bucket, but it doesn’t change the system in Ohio. It doesn’t change the fact that local communities have to support local schools. So we will still be on the ballot again,” Honkala said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Maria Kacik at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.