Christina School District rescinds vote and avoids Race to the Top funding confrontation

Saying it had to look at the well-being of the whole school district, the Christina School board Saturday voted to rescind a controversial April 19 vote that stopped teacher dismissals at Glasgow High School and Stubbs Elementary School.

By stopping the dismissals, the district violated state’s Race to the Top plan, state official said. The board’s position had prompted a state threat to withhold $11 million in federal funds for the district.

The seven member board called the emergency meeting for 5 p.m. Board members immediately went into executive session for more than 90 minutes.

When they returned to public session, board member Shirley Saffer introduced this motion: “On April 19, 2011 the board voted to permit all teachers at Glasgow High School and Stubbs Elementary to remain at the respective schools for the 2011-2012 school year including teachers not selected for positions in these Partnership Zone schools. I move the board rescind these actions. Thus teachers not selected for these positions will…participate in the voluntary transfer process.”

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The motion unanimously passed, but not before several board members said they were unhappy with what had gone on or with the Delaware Education’s Department role in the matter. Board member Elizabeth Scheinberg said she was “deeply saddened the board had its integrity questioned and that it never intended to walk away from its Race to the Top commitment.”

That sentiment was echoed by several members who pointed out the vote to rescind was done so that children and schools not impacted by the ruling would not lose out on the federal money.

Board President John Young said the earlier vote ended up taking money away from “24 other schools that didn’t do anything wrong.” He added, “It became evident to me the state is not backing down.”

The April 19th vote questioned the process by which 13 teachers from Glasgow High and six from Stubbs Elementary school in Wilmington were forced from their current jobs and told they needed to reapply for other jobs in the school district. That vote eventually got the attention of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who backed Delaware’s decision to withhold funds for non-compliance of an agreement reached in January to remove the teachers.

The controversy prompted the board to offer a second resolution, which also passed unanimously. Saffer offered the amendment: “I also move that the board reaffirm that it never intended to not fulfill its commitment to implement Race to the Top Partnership Zone plans.” Glasgow High and Stubbs fall into the plan along with Howard High School and Positive Outcome Charter in Dover. Each school had to come up with changes to improve the school. One part of the plan is to remove some teachers who are classified as under-performing in their schools.

Young said the April 19 vote was misrepresented in its tone, but also said he “apologized to board during its executive session for any personal role my words may have caused to hurt our district.”

Board member David Resler said, “We have a responsibility to raise and address issues. However, we needed to look at the district as a whole.”

Education Secretary Dr. Lillian Lowery said, “I was confident that once the board members had all the facts they would do the right thing.”

She said the issue was that all parties agreed to a state regulation on how Race to the Top funds would be distributed. However, she added, “I am going to be more than happy to sit down with the board to discuss their feelings on the process.”

She said the state did not take away any local control. “It’s all about the concept of the Partnership Zone,” she added.

She added that technically the $11 million was never taken away from the Christina District. That would have happened had the district not acted within 15 days of the April 19 vote. However, since the paperwork was started to begin the process she will be meeting Monday to make sure it doesn’t proceed any further.

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