Nearly 200 school districts -- backed by their teacher union leaders -- have thrown their support behind the state's effort to secure an additional $250 million from the federal government to overhaul failing schools or to start their own charter schools or other innovative programs, the Patrick administration announced today.
Paul Reville, the state's secretary of education, said he expects dozens of more districts to file the necessary paperwork with the state by today's 11:59 p.m. deadline. The paperwork affirms a school district's commitment to undertake dramatic changes in low-performing schools, including turning over about 50 percent of the teaching staff. Each school district's superintendent, school committee chairman, and teacher union president must sign the agreements.
Among the school districts that have submitted agreements: Boston, Chelsea, Dracut, Everett, Lincoln, Lynn, Marblehead, Rockland, Springfield, and Worcester.
The rush to submit the agreements comes as a legislative conference committee is negotiating a compromise today between recently approved House and Senate bills that would give superintendents and the state education commissioner extraordinary powers to turn around schools with low test scores. Some proposed actions, such as dismissing teachers and lengthening school days, could occur without union consent.
The House and Senate have scheduled tentative votes on the bill, which would represent the biggest changes in public education in 17 years, for tomorrow.
"This is the kind of movement that happens once in a decade, if that," Reville said.
While union leaders have been aggressively lobbying the Legislature to preserve workplace rules in failing schools, many unions have been signing the agreements nevertheless because of the rare opportunity for additional federal aid during a period of deep state budget cuts.
The school district agreements will become part of the state's application for the federal money, which is being awarded under the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" competition to encourage education innovation and dramatic school turnarounds. The state must file its application by next Tuesday, but first the Legislature must approve a compromise bill and the governor must sign it.
Following a tour this morning of the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, where test scores have been on the rise in recent years, Governor Deval Patrick spoke optimistically about signing a bill soon.
"I hope by the end of tomorrow we will have even more to celebrate," Patrick said.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said at the event that overhauling underperforming schools and closing the gaps in achievement among various groups of students is the civil rights issue of this decade.
"We all understand how important education is," Menino said, after 8th-graders at the Edwards sang two songs and performed a dance routine.
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