LAUSD Chances Race to the Top App Without Union Support

The Los Angeles Unified School District's application for the newest round of Race to the Top grants appeared to be dead in the water after the teachers union refused to sign on to the request, the Lost Angeles Times reports. The debacle could end up costing the cash-strapped district in the neighborhood of $40 million — such an amount that the district has decided to submit an application even without the required support from the union.

Although $40 million isn't a large number relative to the district's multi-billion dollar annual budget, failure to compete for the money will cost not only jobs, but also educational services that would have greatly benefited LAUSD's struggling schools. John Deasy, the district's Superintendent of Schools, expressed his disappointment at the union's decision, saying that it will ultimately be the students who pay the price for the union's decision to withhold their support.

Deasy decided to forge ahead with the application even without the union's sign-off. The grant rules set out by the U.S. Department of Education require that local teachers unions indicate they accept the conditions that come along with the money, but LAUSD decided to take a chance anyway:

""I have instructed staff to submit an application with all required signatures except that of the teachers union," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy in a statement Thursday. "I want to make the case that here in Los Angeles, after months of trying repeatedly to form a partnership for youth and faculty on this issue our students should not be penalized due to the absence of a [union] signature," said Deasy."

The deadline for the application submission was initially set for October 30th, but the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy earlier this week pushed it back. Still, according to Deasy, the new-found grace period isn't likely to have an impact on the district's application. In his words, the last conversation with union heads made it clear that they were not going to budge.

In the end the main sticking point was financial, said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. He noted that similar grants to states have committed officials to efforts that cost more than the grants provided. He said the district's $43.3-million proposal seemed headed in the same direction. The end result, he said, could have been future cutbacks in classroom teachers and services to students.

In the end, the risk/reward calculations just didn't make sense.

Not so, insists Deasy. The money would go not to support new initiatives, but to underfunded projects already underway with any shortfall easily made up through private donations or other grants. It is unlikely that the district would have ended up a loser in the long run.

L.A. Unified's 150-page application focused in the first year on helping 25,000 students in 35 low-performing middle and high schools. Six of 10 ninth-graders fail to earn enough credits to advance to 10th grade, marking a "critical tipping point" for them, the application said. The district proposed personalized learning plans aided by digital tablets, summer school, learning projects linked to careers, anti-dropout counseling and other services.

This is the first time the U.S. Department of Education is opening up the Race to the Top applications to individual districts. Previously, only states could apply for the grant program.

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