School board approves Race to the Top grant, but teachers union refuses support

The Howard County Board of Education Wednesday approved an application to apply for up to $30 million in grant money, but the application for the federal funds lacks the required support of the teachers' union.

By a vote of 5-2, the board approved signing on to an application for $20-30 million in Race to the Top grant money, which would go to 20 county schools to aid in personalized education and technology.


Board members Brian Meshkin and Cindy Vaillancourt voted against the application, concerned that it did not include a memorandum of understanding between Superintendent Renee Foose and Howard County Education Association President Paul Lemle.

The application needs three signatures: Board Chairwoman Sandra French's, Foose's and Lemle's.

But Lemle said HCEA would not support the application, and the union's Board of Directors and Representative Council voted against supporting the grant when presented with a draft last week.

According to a notice from the U.S. Department of Education, the application must have all three signatures to be considered for the grant.

Among many concerns, Lemle cited a too-short time frame to gain consensus from HCEA. According to the group's bylaws, any meeting must be called three days in advance, and the system failed to provide a complete application for them to review in time, Lemle said.

Lemle cited several other concerns, including a heavy emphasis on using students' standardized test scores as part of a teacher's evaluation and a circumventing of the negotiated master agreement between the board and HCEA.

Some board members suggested the concerns could be addressed through a memorandum of understanding between Foose and HCEA to work out the issues, but a motion made by Meshkin to require such a document be included in the application failed, 5-2-1, with Meshkin and Vaillancourt voting for it, and Janet Siddiqui abstaining from the vote. Meshkin said that by not including a memorandum, the vote essentially killed the application.

After the meeting, Foose said the school system would be applying for the grant with or without HCEA's approval.


She said she would continue to work with HCEA, and was hopeful that the group would sign on.

"This grant represents 21st century teaching and learning, and gives teachers opportunities, flexibilities, professional development and access to cutting-edge teaching methodologies that we currently cannot afford," Foose said. "To move $30 million in our budget would represent dramatic program and personnel cuts in the other areas."

Claims by Linda Wise, deputy superintendent of curriculum, instruction and administration, that a lack of Lemle's signature would prevent the system from receiving upwards of $30 million were met with indignation by a couple of board members.

"No, it will be our fault," Vaillancourt said. "We know the union timeline rules."

Meshkin agreed, and said HCEA's bylaws should have been included in the "critical path" of the grant process, and that any failure was a failure of the board.

Board member Allen Dyer voted in favor of the grant.


"This is the first time that I feel I've had an opportunity, as a board member, to vote in favor of something I care deeply about, and that is targeted efforts to eliminate the achievement gap," he said.

After the meeting, Lemle said Race to the Top "kills innovation and creativity in kids and teachers" through standardized testing, and noted the United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers' union for the second-largest school system in the country, also refused to support its district's grant application. He said it is not likely HCEA would reach an agreement with Foose by the deadline.

"We won't get closer to the end of this misguided policy by signing on for four more years of Race to the Top," he said. "One thing that is right about the program is the Department of Education's absolute insistence that school districts involve educators from the beginning as an equal partner. We will not accept anything less."

The grant money from the federal government will be awarded to 25 districts across the county in December. The deadline to apply for the grant is Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 4:30 p.m., extended from Oct. 30 because of Hurricane Sandy.