Harbor districts wait on teacher-evaluation bill, direction of Title 1 funds


As the 2014 legislative session comes to an end and state lawmakers consider a teacher-evaluation bill that would keep Title 1 funds — used to support low-income students — in the hands of the state, Harbor school districts are having to consider the ramifications. Without its passage, programs and teachers could suffer, but if it does pass, it would mean controversial methods in evaluating teachers.

The redirection of funds, due to the state’s loss of a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind requirements imposed two years ago, would mean a loss of about $40 million in federal education funds across the state. That could mean a loss to current supplemental programs across Harbor districts — including additional teachers, para educators and interventions — and potentially a need to look to voters to help aid in in the loss, according to school officials.

“Certainly, the politics of this topic will impact our neediest kids,” said Hoquiam School District Superintendent Mike Parker. The district currently receives more than $700,000 from Title 1 federal dollars.

States can seek waivers from the mandate’s benchmarks, such as deadlines on student assessments – but, last summer, the U.S. Department of Education placed the state on “high-risk status.” It did not approve of districts being allowed to choose which tests would be used for evaluations.

Two bills in the Legislature could extend the state’s waiver – leaving Title 1 funds in the hands of local districts – by requiring schools to evaluate teachers and principals on the basis of state test scores, a controversial move in the eyes of many educators who say the connection is unfair. House Bill 2800, supported by Gov. Jay Inslee, would delay the implementation until 20017-18, and Senate Bill 5880 would not delay the implementation. Neither bill has made it out of committee and Thursday is the last day of the session, and even if they were passed there is no guarantee the federal government will approve of the measures.

Without the waiver, districts would have to set aside 20 percent of their Title 1 funds for supplemental educational services and for students who might request school choice. Schools would also be required to write to parents informing them their school is failing under No Child Left Behind and that the district would cover transportation costs (using the Title 1 funds) if a student was to move to a school that is not failing. Parker says such requirements are confusing.

“Where would they go? Not just around Hoquiam, but around the Harbor? There’s some sense that it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Parker said he “can’t count the number of surveys” he has completed regarding this topic over the past month — and is hoping the legislation makes its way out of the Legislature.

“I don’t want to think about it,” he said, as to what the district would do without the dollars from Title 1 funding.

He said the district would have three choices should the money be “taken back” by the Department of Education. One would be to reduce programs, including teachers, classes and support staff. They could also ask the public for assistance in making up for the lost funds — though Parker said this probably isn’t an option.

“We just passed our local levy and honestly we didn’t have that in mind at all,” he said, of putting together the levy proposal.

He said that currently the school has two grant-funded after school programs the district was hoping to expand next year and the redirection of funds would mean they could not. The school also uses support classes in mathematics at the middle school, as well as a Title 1 teacher, and para-support — all of which could be jeopardized if the district were to lose the funds.

At Aberdeen High School, 20 percent of Title 1 funds would mean the district would need to set aside about $200,000. Currently, the school uses Title 1 funds to assist with support programs in reading at the elementary school and to support teachers that teach reading, summer school programs, support for preschool early childhood programs — according to district superintendent Dr. Tom Opstad.

Opstad says the redirection of the funds could “reduce (the district’s) staffing some,” but that based on the district’s past history it likely will not have a major effect.

Opstad is more concerned of the possibility of the requirement to use state test scores in evaluations of teachers if the legislation is passed. He said the district has finished its teacher-contract negotiations and has chosen not to use state assessments. Hundreds of teachers were in Olympia last week in opposition to both proposed bills.

Both Opstad and Parker say that changes in evaluation — as part of the No Child Left Behind legislation that they consider faulty — would mean a need for more direction from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Legislature as to how to evaluate teachers when test scores arrive in August. but teachers are evaluated in May.

“We would have to test kids sooner,” said Parker, adding it would mean a lot of work to change the district’s scheduled testing.

Opstad said it will also be confusing to use it as an across-the-board method.

“Teachers that teach band or choir or non-tested subjects … there needs to be some well thought out and clarified process if that is the direction the Legislature wants to move,” he said.

Sam Luvisi: 360-537-3935 or sluvisi@thedailyworld.com and @Dw_Sluvisi on Twitter

 

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