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January 30, 2013

New Castle may forfeit nearly $150,000 after teachers say no to evaluations

NEW CASTLE — New Castle’s teachers have decided not to participate in a federal grant program for teacher evaluations.

That means a $147,000 federal Race to the Top grant probably will have to be forfeited by the New Castle Area School District and be allocated to other school districts, according to Terence P. Meehan, assistant to the superintendent.

The decision by the New Castle Federation of Teachers executive board yesterday afternoon came as a shock to Meehan last night. He said that after a meeting Friday with the Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV and the union, he felt that a lot of misconceptions had been cleared up.

Don Runyon, president of the 250-member teacher federation, said the executive board is comprised of a representative from each of the district’s schools.

After Friday’s meeting, the executive committee members fielded concerns from teachers about student absenteeism, assessment testing and behavior.

“Those are things we have no control over,” he said. “Some red flags were getting us some calls.”

A bigger issue before the committee, however, was the timing between when the district applied for the grant and when it involved the teachers union, Runyon said. The union contends the district applied for the grant in January  2011.

“We could have discussed it during collective bargaining, and now is not the time to do it,” Runyon said.

The new teachers contract was ratified last March and was retroactive to July , 2011, when it expired. The teachers worked under the previous terms for nine or 10 months during negotiations.

Meehan countered that the district did not apply for the Race to the Top money until April or May last year, and didn’t hear anything about it until October. When the administration was notified of the grant, it involved the teachers right away, he said.

The initiative involves training for teachers, who must become more effective and uniform in teaching core subjects by 2015, Meehan explained. If the district returns the funding, the district won’t have the staff development money when the training becomes a requirement.

 The money was to be used for training teachers to establish a way of teaching so their lesson plans are approached in a way that will be embraced in Pennsylvania, Meehan said.

“The Race to the Top funding is available for each state to implement the teacher evaluation process that is to be used for uniformity in education. It’s supposed to help us raise the levels of our teaching to meet the common core standards,” he said, adding “It’s (President) Obama’s spin-off of No Child Left Behind.”

According to Meehan, the district’s allocation is the highest of any the school districts.

“We didn’t create this in New Castle,” he added, emphasizing that Race to the Top is a legislative mandate.

“Any funds we can bring to New Castle, I hate to turn them down, they’re so hard to get,” he commented. “Now someone else in this area will get our money and that’s hard to swallow.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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