April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain County schools denied state Straight A Fund money

Elyria Schools' request for state funding to revamp Franklin Elementary School, seen in this 2003 photo, was denied. No Lorain County schools received a portion of the highly competitive Straight A Fund money. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Elyria Schools’ request for state funding to revamp Franklin Elementary School, seen in this 2003 photo, was denied. No Lorain County schools received a portion of the highly competitive Straight A Fund money. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Lorain described a need for more technology in the classrooms.

Elyria outlined a desire is to transform its most troubled elementary school.

A team of school districts came together with the shared goal of more teacher development so they could develop lesson plans supporting new technology.

The sting of rejection was felt all over Lorain County as superintendent after superintendent learned they had not secured one dime from the state’s highly competitive Straight A Fund: $250 million reserved for the school districts in the state that were judged as submitting the most innovative and sustainable programs in their grant applications.

Usually, when grant proposals get shot down, it goes by unnoticed.

Not this time.

Friday, the governing board that overseas the grant announced the first 24 recipients in this round of funding that would share $88 million. No Lorain County names were on the list.

Lorain County’s superintendents are sounding the alarm about the ongoing game of winners and losers in the public education forum. A letter to the editor published in today’s paper speaks to their “angst,” as Elyria Superintendent Paul Rigda put it, over spending hours completing and submitting a grant application that is unceremoniously rejected.

“It is our professional opinion that the state picked winners and losers with our state tax dollars rather than focusing on and diverting dollars to systemic improvements that could benefit all of the boys and girls in Ohio,” said the letter, which is signed by every superintendent in the county. “It is clear that the chosen 24 districts are among the ‘winners,’ while the Lorain County districts that submitted grant proposals, as well as the 569 other applicants throughout the state, are the ‘losers.’”

There is a rising tide of anger in districts that were passed over.

“As always, school funding in this state is very complicated and tends to be very political,” said Lorain Superintendent Tom Tucker, who runs one of the neediest districts in the state (in the six categories the last biennial budget used to rank how districts should be funded, Lorain was at or near the bottom in every category).

Some would argue the Straight A Fund is supposed to aid districts just like Lorain.

When the state fund was introduced during budget talks, it was described as a way to reward districts that would institute innovative strategies to improve achievement and increase efficiency, if they had the funding to do so. Each program proposal had to be sustainable in the district after the one-time grant ran out.

Lorain sought $4.8 million to teach digitally and incorporate more technology into the classroom. Tucker said he thought it was ideal in closing the academic gap in Lorain while also preparing students for the next set of state assessments, which includes tests to be taken on computers.

“It’s disappointing,” Tucker said. “This would have saved us money on personnel while automating a lot of technology issues that are really holding us back. I assumed we had a pretty good shot.”

The Columbia, Avon, Midview, Firelands and Keystone school districts jointly presented a proposal to increase achievement with blended learning, technology and professional development.

“Just a share of that money based on the number of students in the state would have a huge impact on us,” said Elyria Superintendent Paul Rigda. “I don’t know how legislators can say we have $250 million, impress us, and then say we also have another $400 million that we haven’t decided where it should go but it won’t have a great impact on school districts.”

In its rejected Straight A Fund proposal, Elyria sought money to transform Franklin School from a traditional school to one with pre-school classes, longer school days, longer calendar year and different teaching methods. The savings would come in the reduction of the number of remedial programs needed for a group of students already struggling with socio-economic issues beyond their control, Rigda said.

A plan is in place to conduct a countywide survey to determine what level of understanding local voters have on education issues and what they would like to learn about most. The survey will be followed up with a forum and the availability of educational materials.

As for future rounds of funding through the grant, Rigda and Tucker said they owe it to their respective communities to keep applying.

“Like so many other districts, we’ll be right back at it,” Tucker said. “It’s a lot of money and you’re not going to get it unless you apply.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

  • SniperFire

    The State props up ‘losers’ all the time.

  • BuckeyeGuy

    While our Lorain County public schools and many others in the state were denied funding through the Straight A Fund, the online charter school ECOT was awarded their entire Straight A Fund grant request of $2,951,755. ECOT received $88,000,000 (yep, that’s millions!) in public funds last year and is expected to receive $92,000,000 this year, despite earning F grades on the state’s Performance Index. Owned by William Lager, ECOT itself is classified as a “non-profit” entity for tax purposes. However, it takes the public funds it’s given and immediately contracts for curriculum and operations services with two for-profit companies, Altair Learning Management Co. and IQ Innovations, which are both owned by Lager. He draws a salary from the non-profit ECOT as their CEO and then collects on the back end as CEO for the other two companies. Oh, and Lager has donated nearly $1-million to Republican lawmakers in Ohio since 2010. It’s easy to see why our Lorain County schools were among the Straight A Fund “losers”—they don’t have the money necessary to grease the palms of the ruling party in Columbus. It’s a shame but it takes money to get money in this case.

  • http://Zulama.com Nikki Navta

    Only 24 grants were awarded out of 358 who demonstrated sustainability. Must make a lot of districts feel as if they spent a lot of time on a wild goose chase.

  • Phil Seguin

    I agree that we do a poor job of funding education in Ohio – we should allow parents and the free market to direct where their tax dollars for education go. We should have a statewide voucher system for everyone.

  • Ray Venn

    Two of the things the state looked at Lorain has done poorly for the past 10 years.

    1. Innovation. We ALL know the score on that one. There hasn’t been an innovative thought come out of Charleston in over a decade and it doesn’t look like it will change soon.

    2. Sustainability. Ok, without performance nor innovation the money to sustain such a program will not exist. We have been at the bottom for so long that even the state thinks until we get our collective “shyt” together, they won’t waste any money on us.

    We have some of the best technology already in our schools. Smartboards, ipads hundreds of computers that at least some of are used more for gaming than learning.

    The state was wise to not accept our grant request…at least for now.

    Remember the “Small Schools” MILLIONS we wasted from the Gates Foundation.

  • Joe Sandor

    The school systems will keep trying.
    And trying.
    And trying.
    And be denied.
    And be denied.
    And be denied.
    After viewing three of the proposals, exactly where is the innovation, let alone the sustainability? It doesn’t exist. Elyria said Franklin was an example of what would/should warrant funds. The proposal is a “fluff piece” at best and a joke at worst. Let’s face it, as someone who has written MANY proposals for government money (federal, multi-state, multi-local, and developmental), these school proposals do not pass the light of day.
    What a waste of money to pay to have the proposals written.
    What a waste of money to have officials have to take time to read these proposals.