Feds side with Delaware against Christina School District

The battle between Delaware’s Department of Education and the Christina School District over frozen Race to the Top (RTTT) funds is now on the federal government’s radar.

U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement Monday night backing the recent actions of the Delaware Department of Education.

“Districts, like Christina, which signed on to the Race to the Top plan, made a commitment to dramatically improve the lives of children. Because Christina has backtracked on that commitment, the state of Delaware has made the tough but courageous decision to withhold Race to The Top funding. I believe that is the right decision.”

The state froze more than $11 million in RTTT funds dedicated to Christina Thursday, following what’s become a controversial school board meeting last week.

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You can listen to a digital audio recording of the April 19th school board meeting here.

The state says the district voted against the reform agreement it pledged to implement to improve student performance at two of its failing schools — Stubbs Elementary and Glasgow High.

“We did not vote against the plan at all. We simply voted against the execution of a very small portion of the plan,” said Christina School Board President John Young.

“This is about the integrity of a process. We can’t pick this apart and say, ‘We didn’t vote against the plan, we just voted against a part of it.’ What if next week another part doesn’t look so good,” challenged Delaware’s Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, who said the groundwork has been laid for months and that the district’s vote forced the state’s hand.

As part of Stubbs’ and Glasgow’s “Partnership Zone” status, current teachers reinterviewed with the district to determine whether they would still be a good fit for the new Stubbs and the new Glasgow. According to Young, teachers were not given a fair shake during the interview process because it was not carried out as written and agreed upon in the district’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the state.

“We voted to treat our teachers with fairness and respect,” said Young.

However, Dr. Lowery says she isn’t biting.

“One school had completed the entire process, which was Stubbs Elementary, the exact same process, and there was no feedback and there was some time between Stubbs and then Glasgow… We only got feedback about the process after people were not selected to stay at Glasgow,” said Lowery.

Also critical of the board’s decision, Wilmington Mayor James Baker is now urging board members to reverse their decision or resign, describing last week’s vote as “criminal.”

“A majority of the members of this board of education have taken it upon themselves to deny children in two of its schools a quality education,” said the Mayor. “These members have full knowledge that two of their schools, including one located in our City, are underperforming, and yet they rejected their own reform plan and the funding needed to raise the education standards for these children.”

Last night, the Delaware Dept. of Education sent a letter to Christina’s Board President and Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles giving the district 15 days “to show cause in writing why the Department of Education should not suspend any further payment to the Christina District of Race to the Top funds.”

Young says he fully intends to comply with the state’s request and says he would love a face-to- face meeting so both sides can clear the air in person.

Dr. Lowery says she’s all for a meeting when the Dept. of Education is ready.

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