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Districts Wonder if Race to Top is Worth Cost

by Pauline Liu
Times Herald-Record
November 12, 2012

The federal Race to the Top competition is making school districts dole out far more money than they’re receiving from the program, according to school officials and experts.

For some districts, it’s wreaking havoc.

“Race to the Top has turned the district upside down,” said Monticello School Superintendent Daniel Teplesky. “The teachers are anxious.”

It seems that the program has teachers in Newburgh so anxious that some aired their grievances at a Board of Education meeting recently. “Teachers are depressed, demoralized, and that serves no one, especially not our students,” said teachers association president Art Plichta to the school board.

As for Newburgh Schools Superintendent Ralph Pizzo, he’s blaming mandates, though not specifically RTTT, for soaring costs that have put the district “roughly $10 million above the tax cap.”

In an open letter that he posted online a couple of weeks ago, he expressed concerns about cutting programs and closing a school. He did not return calls for comment.

There are a lot of changes, including a new teacher- and principal-evaluation system, a new curriculum that’s aligned with new learning standards as well as more tests for students and more training for teachers.

The costs of implementing RTTT have been outlined in a new report by Ken Mitchell, a schools superintendent in Rockland County.

He looks at districts in the Lower Hudson and offers hard numbers illustrating the huge disparity been what they actually receive from the program and what they must spend in order to participate in it.

The study was done for SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach and has been posted on its website.

“This is what happens when you have folks running federal and state educational systems, when they have never really been around the systems they are purporting to run,” said Middletown School Superintendent Ken Eastwood, who called the study “dead on.”

Middletown, as well as Monticello, Florida and Wallkill all expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000 this school year in order to meet the requirements of the program.

Some districts, such as Wallkill, will spend as much as nine times what they actually receive. Wallkill’s annual grant is $25,000. Florida’s annual grant is $4,415.

Still, superintendents are not about to pan the program totally.

“We believe the changes being promoted are responsive to the changing world for which we are preparing our students,” said Florida Schools Superintendent Diane Munro.

“While we are deeply concerned about the costs, we see the potential payoff for the investment, and are hopeful that the state will take action on the many other unfunded mandates that drain funds from instructional programs.”

Likewise, Wallkill Schools Superintendent Bill Hecht feels the program is worthwhile.

“I like the Common Core curriculum and the implementation of teacher and principal evaluations,” said Hecht. “My concern is that the timeline is an aggressive timeline that is causing stress on the system.”

While the jury is still out on whether the program will work, administrators are continuing their efforts to put it in place. “Once the bureaucratic setup of it is done, it will have to be reviewed and … it may take the four years to evaluate to see if it’s effective or not,” said Mary-Stephanie Corsones, Kingston’s assistant superintendent for curriculum.