Superintendent’s Statement Regarding Federal Race To The Top Grant & Education Jobs Bill

CCSD Superintendent Fred Sanderson made the following statement at the August 26, 2010 Board of Education meeting:

Teacher Organizations’ Respond to Superintendent’s Comments

There has been a lot of information in the news recently about two sources of Federal funding that have been made available to school systems – one that we have opted not to apply for, and another that we intend to use to the fullest.

The first source is the four-year, $400 million Federal Race To The Top grant that Georgia received this week. Half of the $400 million will be distributed to school districts over a four-year period, and the state keeps the other half. We opted to not participate in the application for these funds because they come with serious strings attached. In fact, only 26 of Georgia’s 180 school systems chose to participate, even in these tough economic times. Throughout its history, the Cobb County School District has prided itself on an academic and operational program that is based on local control – and is not steered by Federal mandate. Accepting Race To The Top funds would compromise that philosophy by shifting some control away from Cobb County and toward Washington. Some of our concerns included:

  • A lack of information up front, including clarity and specificity regarding the non-negotiable application criteria.
  • Replacing Cobb’s teacher evaluation instrument with a common evaluation system that includes merit pay.
  • Mandating that districts use one of four federal models to turn around the lowest achieving schools.
    And . . .
  • The cost of implementing the required programs – including training, materials and reassigning teachers – was potentially higher than the funds that would be provided by the grant.

I should also point out that currently our school district has three Teacher Quality Partnerships already in place, and all are funded by grants. One is with Kennesaw State University, one with Georgia State University, and another with Michigan State University.

In these difficult economic times, it is not easy to turn down potential funding such as Race To The Top. I am certain that for some school districts this grant makes a lot of sense. That is why I have tried to explain these concerns as clearly as I can so that our teachers and our community understand that participating in this grant would not be in the best interest of the Cobb County School District.

To date, our schools and operations have been running very smoothly, but are nevertheless under a great deal of strain due to the major budgetary cuts we have had to make over the last two years. We did, however, get some very good news this week that will provide some much-needed financial assistance. Our school district will be receiving a little more than $20 million as part of recently approved Federal emergency Education Jobs Bill. The money will arrive in equal installments this month and in October. Unlike Race To The Top, we have a great deal of flexibility in how these funds can be used.

I plan to bring a recommendation to the September work session on how we can use this much-needed funding as effectively as possible. The money comes with the clear warning that next year’s budget picture will not be pretty, and as a one-time windfall we should not use the funds for recurring expenses such as hiring additional personnel because the money will not be available in next year’s budget.

With that in mind, one of the biggest concerns I have about our financial picture heading into next year is that before we can start the budget process we will need to restore the step increases that were cut from this year’s staff salaries. The salary schedule has to be brought back to the baseline at the beginning of the budget process. These funds will make it a lot easier to make that adjustment. Therefore, the recommendations I bring to you at the September work session are likely to include using the Education Jobs bill funds to help restore the step increases that were cut and to restore two furlough days. Those two steps would be excellent ways to put the stimulus funds to effective use, and, I think they would be well received by our employees.