Pennsylvania school district to lose $147G grant after teachers union balks at training

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A Pennsylvania school district is reportedly set to forfeit a $147,000 federal grant to fund teacher training after the union claimed it was not being consulted during the application process.

In what the New Castle News characterized as a "turf tussle," the New Castle Federation of Teachers refused to sign on for the training program, which is designed to help educators prepare for tougher new state evaluations. The federal "Race to the Top" grant money will instead be allocated to other districts, officials said. Terence Meehan, assistant to the district’s superintendent, said the union's decision came as a shock.

Don Runyon, president of the 250-teacher federation, said the district applied for the grant and when it involved the teachers union was problematic. The union contends the district applied for the grant in January  2011, at a time when teachers were working under an expired contract and negotiating the current pact, which went into effect retroactively to July 2011. Runyon said the training program, which includes some aspects his members find objectionable, should have been part of talks.

“We could have discussed it during collective bargaining, and now is not the time to do it,” Runyon told the newspaper.

Runyon could not be reached for comment by Tuesday. District officials, including Acting Superintendent Stan Magusiak, did not return several messages seeking comment.

But Meehan said the district did not apply for the “Race to the Top” funds until April or May of 2012, and didn’t hear anything about it until last October. When the administration was notified of the grant, it involved the teachers right away, he said.

The initiative, Meehan continued, involves training for teachers, who must become more effective and uniform in teaching core subjects by 2015. If the district returns the funding, the district won’t have the staff development money when the training becomes required. The money was to be used for training teachers to establish a way of teaching so their lesson plans are approached in a way that will be embraced in Pennsylvania, he said.

“The ‘Race to the Top’ funding is available for each state to implement the teacher evaluation process that is to be used for uniformity in education,” Meehan said. “It’s supposed to help us raise the levels of our teaching to meet the common core standards … It’s [President] Obama’s spin-off of No Child Left Behind.”

The district’s allocation is the highest of any of the school districts, according to Meehan.

“Any funds we can bring to New Castle, I hate to turn them down, they’re so hard to get,” he said. “Now someone else in this area will get our money and that’s hard to swallow.”

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