Malibu schools compete for federal funding


The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education votes to apply for federal funding to improve education standards in eligible states.

By Katherine Peach / Special to the Malibu Times

The SMMUSD Board of Education voted unanimously at a special meeting Monday night to support the state’s efforts to compete for special funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

“Race to the Top” is a grant program that will distribute money to each state designed to improve educational performance nationwide.

California will receive anywhere from $350 to $750 million from the pool of $4.35 billion available to states, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Figures have yet to be released for the amount SMMUSD will receive in the fall.

Final deliberations by state legislators for the education grant appeal were delayed Monday night until today. California’s $20 billion budget deficit may cause the state Department of Education to cut about $4 billion from state public schools. The SMMUSD district is already facing a projected $2 million deficit for the 2010-11 school year.

Funding will be divided among districts, with 50 percent for Title I schools and the rest going to all other schools. Title I schools contain a high percentage of low-income students. The “Race to the Top” one-time funding will be distributed during a four-year period.

The school board’s discussions Monday focused on costs and teacher support as the board faced a Jan. 8 deadline to approve a district memorandum of understanding. The memorandum details state conditions the district agrees to comply with in order to apply for funding. The MOU is a non-binding local commitment to California’s statewide plan to improve and develop a time line to adhere to national core standards.

Districts can drop out without penalty from the program at any point if standards are unable to be met. Schools will not be required to return funding received, but will be ineligible for further support. The memorandum encourages local collaboration to determine specific guidelines and assessment procedures.

To secure funding from the “Race to the Top” program the district must meet four state guidelines. Chiung-Sally Chou, SMMUSD chief academic officer, said district requirements include a data system, and annual staff and student evaluations that are already being performed. She explained that certain requirements such as technical improvements, after-school programs and multiple avenue opportunities for high school students are in place.

“We are trying to move up a notch or a couple of notches to implement the plan,” Chou said. “It will enhance a lot of things that we are doing here.”

The fourth requirement applies to only low-performing schools that are not an issue within the district. Despite multiple board members’ concerns, Chou said the district is unlikely to spend more than the amount awarded in order to implement the changes. Actual fund distribution will not be decided until April.

Harry Keiley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classified Teachers Association, expressed faculty concerns about changing the teacher assessment guidelines already in place. He said although the initiative championed change where it is desperately needed, a relatively small amount of money for the district should not replace a good system. Keiley asked the board as a representative to open collective bargaining to alleviate worries.

“Linking student achievement with teacher evaluation, those are really comprehensive and philosophical discussions,” Keiley said. “By agreeing to this we are not saying that we will have a philosophical shift in what we believe in. We won’t, but we welcome conversation.”

Additional funds to benefit a dire budget and ability to withdraw from the program attributed to the board approval. Board member Oscar de la Torre said student achievement needs to be the focus. He reminded the group of the district’s already exemplary record despite the revolving changes in education with each new administration.

“We need to make sure in the end that the people who have to implement this will be behind the program,” de la Torre said. “We need to look at the overall picture of what student achievement means.”