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Clark County District Reaches Agreement With Union on Race to the Top

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki @jzubrzycki

The 311,000-student Clark County school district in Nevada will submit its application for the Race to the Top district competition, after governor Brian Sandoval stepped in to mediate between the district and its union, the Clark County Education Association.

The agreement came this morning, only hours before the deadline to submit the application. Applications for the competition were initially due earlier this week, but were postponed due to Hurricane Sandy. Districts in states affected by the storm have until November 7 to apply.

The CCEA's executive director John Vellardita had written a letter to Clark County's deputy superintendent last week, saying that the union had been excluded from the development of the application and could not support the final product. The strongly worded letter said that "there is no evidence cited in the application that this recognizes a need to include current classroom professionals in the planning and design of this application." The union also expressed concern about the fact that some of the grant money will go to outside vendors.

The district responded early this week with a letter citing six instances in which the district had reached out to union officials. The letter also says that more than 6,000 stakeholders had attended meetings during the development, including more than 1,600 teachers, and that the attendees had largely supported the proposal.

Union officials, the governor, and the superintendent began meetings last night, and this morning, the union and district reached an agreement. The only substantive adjustment to the application was a spelling out of the QTAL, or Quality Teaching of English Learners, program alluded to in the grant, according to district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson. (You can read more about programs serving English-language learners in the archives of our Learning the Language blog.)

Superintendent Dwight Jones said the differences were largely about communication rather than substance. "When we got past rhetoric, we were pretty much already in agreement," he said. He said the grant would help support more than 60 schools in the cash-strapped district.

The CCEA's president, Ruben Murillo, confirmed that he had signed off on the application this morning, but the union did not respond to further requests for comment. In an announcement on its website, the CCEA commended the governor for stepping in. It touted the fact that Gov. Sandoval agrees with the union both that the school system is underfunded, and also that teachers are "the most critical element for student success."

Superintendent Jones also applauded the governor's involvement, and said he was hopeful that the governor-facilitated negotiations might represent a step forward in terms of the CCEA and district working more collaboratively.

A grant is still anything but a given for the district, given that hundreds of districts have expressed an interest in applying for Race to the Top grants. But the odds may be better than they would have seemed a few months back: A number of districts that said they intended to apply wound up being unable to get union support for their applications. My colleague Michele McNeil reported on some of the trouble in Los Angeles over on the Politics K-12 blog; the superintendent there has requested that the district's application be considered even though the district did not get union approval.

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