Evanston schools withdraw from Race to the Top

Manuel Rapada

Evanston/Skokie District 65 board members unanimously voted Monday to withdraw from Race to the Top, President Barack Obama’s nationwide education initiative.

Late last month, the board unanimously followed Superintendent Hardy Murphy’s recommendation for D65 to participate in the state’s RTTT plan. The plan received a $43 million grant from the federal government in December, half of which must go to individual districts adopting reforms

Murphy said the work needed to enact the state’s Performance Evaluation Reform Act by the next school year is an impractical goal for the district.

At Monday night’s meeting at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave., the board again unanimously followed Murphy’s recommendation, this time to discontinue participation in the plan.

After filing a statement of intent to participate in RTTT with the Illinois State Board of Education, D65 received an updated “preliminary allocation” last week of $53,699. The nearby Chicago Public Schools system is slated to receive over $16.9 million of $21.4 million available.

“When we first got into (RTTT), we thought there would be a significant amount of financial support,” Murphy said, adding the state’s intensive scope of work would require some district employees to change their work schedules in order to train for it.

At the Feb. 21 board meeting, Murphy called filing a statement of intent a “no-brainer.” Although D65 is in its third year of factoring student performance into teacher evaluations, a PERA requirement, Murphy said other requirements are less efficient ways to assess performance.

“In some ways, the state plan has missed the boat, but we felt we would like to participate with them,” Murphy said.

Murphy added he eventually felt RTTT was not right for D65, since it would require the district to implement PERA within an unfeasibly short amount of time. Although RTTT requires participating schools to implement the state’s evaluation plan by the 2012-2013 school year, D65 would not have to do so until the 2016-2017 year if it remains independent.

D65 board member Richard Rykhus said he considered whether the district should continue participating in RTTT in case other districts drop out of the plan, leaving more money for Evanston schools.

“For the districts that might not be as advanced (in implementing PERA) as we are, if they also withdraw, what happens to those funds that were allocated to them?” Rykhus said. “It’s tough to project how many districts will opt out once they’ve learned what we’ve learned and how much bigger that makes the non-CPS piece of the pie.”

However, Susan Schultz, a D65 assistant superintendent, dispelled Rykhus’ theory.

“When we listened to the webinar about the scope of work, we were informed…that we would not get additional funds,” she said.

According to D65’s statement of intent to participate in RTTT, which required signatures from Murphy and Jean Luft, president of teachers’ union District 65 Educators’ Council, the district may elect to drop out of RTTT without penalty even after receiving its tentative award from ISBE.

“It appears to us that the amount of funding we will receive from the state to support this intense effort is not worth our participation,” Murphy said.

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