Whitehall News

Whitehall exits Race to the Top federal program

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The Whitehall City School District is the latest in a number of area districts to pull out of the federal Race to the Top program.

According to Superintendent Brian Hamler, although the district will lose out on the final installment of the program's funding, withdrawal shouldn't hurt the district financially.

Hamler said Whitehall would forgo about $197,000 -- much less than previously reported in other news outlets -- by exiting the program.

Race to the Top was introduced in 2009 by President Obama as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The competition for the $4.35 billion dedicated to the project was designed to increase levels of consistent achievement among students in the United States in an effort to move the country's students to higher, globally competitive levels.

In August 2010, Ohio was selected as one of 10 winning states to be funded through the second round of the program and was awarded a total of $400 million to be distributed over four years. Whitehall was one of 500 school districts and community schools in Ohio to participate in the program initially and was slated to receive a total of $745,179.

To date, nearly 100 of the original participants have exited the program.

According to Hamler, he consulted with former Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy, who still was at the helm when the decision was made late last month. He said one of the main reasons for exiting the program was because the district and the teachers' union could not come to an agreement concerning new teacher evaluations by the June 30 deadline.

The state has adopted a new system for evaluating teachers, basing evaluations equally on teacher performance and student growth. The state required districts to adopt a policy outlining this new state requirement by July 1, but districts do not have to implement it until local education associations' current contracts have expired.

For Whitehall, that means by next summer.

To remain enrolled in the Race to the Top program, however, the new teacher evaluations have to be in place by this fall, regardless of when a union's contract expires.

According to Hamler, the district and the Whitehall Education Association tried to negotiate a memorandum of understanding in an effort to implement the new evaluation process this fall so it could remain in the Race to the Top program, but the two sides could not come to an agreement in time for the June 30 deadline. He said the district was not ready to take that step yet.

The financial impact of the decision will be minimal, though, Hamler said.

"Many of the dollars from that grant were being spent because we were part of that grant," he said. "To be honest, there wasn't a whole lot we'd be giving up by pulling out."

He said many of the dollars being awarded were being spent on a transformation team implementing the program and on other supplies required of the grant.

Alisha Wilson, president of the WEA, said she thinks the issue was less about the memorandum and more about developing quality teacher evaluations that satisfy the state's needs.

"The association and board have a negotiated agreement that was in place prior to the Sept. 29th requirement," she said. "This will allow us all to have more time to prepare for the evaluation system. As I am sure you are aware, there seems to be more questions than answers.

"We will continue to work through the details during this year with Brian (Hamler). In the end, it's about doing what is right for our students and community."

The Bexley City School District also exited the program early -- and for similar reasons.

"We cannot be a part of the agreement until our contract with teachers is renegotiated," Bexley Superintendent Mike Johnson said last November.

Both Whitehall's and Bexley's decisions required board approval. Whitehall's board voted unanimously June 27 to withdraw from the program.

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