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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2011

TPS, teacher union settle dispute over U.S. program

$10.8M in federal funds now available to district



Toledo Public Schools can again access millions in federal funds after district leaders and teachers' union officials settled a dispute that jeopardized the money.

The two sides notified Ohio Department of Education officials Monday that they have resolved their differences over Race to the Top, a federal program aimed at reforming schools that would pump $10.8 million into the Toledo district. The funds had been frozen since mid-March because of the dispute, but the district can now access the money, TPS superintendent Jerome Pecko said Tuesday.

"It's good news for the district, and it's good news for 25,000 students," Mr. Pecko said.

The dispute centered on collaboration between teachers and administrators, a key component of the Race to the Top program. Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, notified the Education Department in a March 15 letter that the union was withdrawing from the program.

She pointed to correspondence sent by Mr. Pecko dated March 17, in which he informed union members the district planned to cancel six programs next school year because they are unaffordable, including the Toledo Plan and the Teacher Review and Compensation System.

Those two programs were written into an agreement between the Board of Education and teachers when they submitted applications for Race to the Top, and Ms. Lawrence argued the cancellation was a unilateral move ending collaboration between teachers and administrators. District officials said they intended to develop replacement programs with teachers.

The withdrawal by teachers from the program froze money allocated to the district, and failure to resolve the dispute would have meant the money would be allocated to other Ohio school districts. The resolution freed up those funds, district and state officials said.

The two sides held a conference-call mediation session March 28 with Michael Sawyers, assistant state superintendent for the Ohio Department of Education. No resolution was reached at that mediation, but administration and union officials continued to meet, and ultimately came to the agreement.

In the accord reached between the district and teachers, Mr. Pecko agreed to withdraw the cancellation of the Toledo Plan and the Teacher Review and Compensation System. Ms. Lawrence agreed to withdraw the March 15 letter, pulling the teachers' union from Race to the Top.

The agreement does not resolve, however, what will happen to the two teacher programs. Part of Race to the Top includes requirements that districts use pay structures for some teachers based on student academic growth. That concept, called value-added assessment, will need to be implemented into the programs for the district to meet federal requirements, said Craig Brown, a lawyer contracted by the district to lead contract negotiations with the teachers' union.

"These programs require modifications," Mr. Brown said.

Ms. Lawrence disagrees. Nothing in the Toledo Plan or Teacher Review and Compensation System is in contradiction to Race to the Top requirements, she said.

"Those are the kind of programs the Obama Administration is hoping will inspire teachers and administrators in other districts throughout the country," Ms. Lawrence said.

A committee of teachers and administrators is working on Race to the Top concepts. Meanwhile, the state education department is developing a value-added assessment model for Ohio districts.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.

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