At its January 5 study session, the Mamaroneck School Board voted unanimously to sign a memorandum of understanding that will entitle the district to a portion of Race to the Top funds, should New York State qualify for this federal competitive grant program.
Race to the Memo
The vote was in response to a request from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) — made just days before winter break — that the district demonstrate its “commitment to participate in all or a substantial portion of the improvement initiatives articulated in the State’s [Race to the Top ] RTTT plan.” To meet a RTTT deadline, the district needed to return the signed memo to Albany by Friday, January 8.
Superintendent Paul Fried acknowledged that the speed with which the district was asked to act “feels funny,” and that the NYSED documents did not give much guidance.
In the end, however, he recommended that the district execute the memorandum.
Race for the Money
The financial stakes are potentially high for New York State: it could receive $700 million if it is one of the “race winners.” Half of that would go to state-wide projects, but the other half would be doled out to individual districts, with larger sums going to high-need schools.
For Mamaroneck, the grant could be $60,000 or more, depending on how many other districts sign the memorandum.
Signing on to many of the improvement initiatives in the NYSED plan was easy for Mamaroneck. Several elements are already in place in the district, such as the revised teacher evaluation procedure (APPR), which was negotiated as part of the last teachers’ contract. Other items, like improving use of data and assessments to guide instruction, are a focus of the district’s current goals. (See: School Goals Stress Consistency; New Field Plan Advances.)
But there were some potential “flies in the ointment,” said Dr. Fried. The district did not commit to two items in the NYSED plan that involve looking at student growth as a measure of teacher effectiveness and using that and other data to set teacher compensation or determine retention. These cannot be implemented without renegotiating the district’s contract with its teachers. Moreover, merit-based pay is prohibited currently by New York law, although the governing provision is set to sunset this year and is not expected to be renewed.
Teachers Union Signs Too
Dr. Fried said NYSED had “requested” that teachers’ union presidents sign the memorandum, but did not seem to require their signatures. Mamaroneck Teachers’ Association President Ann Borsellino had advised him that the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), a state federation of teachers’ unions, was counseling against signing the memorandum.
Ultimately, according to the district’s January 7 press release, Ms. Borsellino signed the memorandum after “carefully reviewing the documents and selecting only the areas we believe will benefit our district.”
“We are grateful that we have been able to review and act upon this opportunity quickly to help ensure Mamaroneck’s receipt of important funding at a critical time,” Dr. Fried said. “The fact that the MTA has chosen to support this initiative as well is both admirable and appreciated.”
More information about the Race to the Top is available on the NYSED website.