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|Gray cautions MCSB about 'Race to the Top'|
The Monroe City School Board will take a closer look at a statewide initiative designed to encourage improved performance by way of a $4.4 billion federal stimulus package.
Interim superintendent of schools Julian Gray said the school board should "really look hard" at the plan proposed by state superintendent of schools Paul Pastorek.
"The federal government has dangled an apple in front of us of 4.5 billion they're going to give to the states," Gray said. "In order for the states to receive the money, we're going to basically have to raise our school performance levels."
Gray cautioned the school board that Pastorek's proposal, "Race to the Top," might not be as good of a deal as it at first sounds. The plan mandates schools in the program maintain an 80-percent mastery level on state tests. If a school falls below the 80 percent level, it would be in danger of a state takeover. Current state guidelines dictate a 60 percent mastery level to be deemed academically acceptable.
In effect, Gray said it would take a system where only one or two schools are in danger of a state takeover and move the bar so high that "9 or 10 schools" would fall below the mark.
Gray said the proposal has been widely unpopular throughout the state.
"The majority of the superintendents in northeast Louisiana don't like this anymore than I do," Gray said.
Gray suggested the program's 20-point jump would be too high of a step for the Monroe system, despite historic evidence to the contrary.
"We had a 20 point jump once before when they jumped it from 40 to 60," Gray said, referring to a similar program in 2003. "But we were able to make the mark."
Gray said the step from 60 to 80 would be much more difficult for some schools to meet and suggested an alternative.
"A 10 percent jump is doable," Gray said. "But taking it to 80 percent will place a lot of the schools as academically unacceptable."
On another front, the school board recognized two principals for outstanding service and performance.
Jacqueline Anderson and Lametria Robertson each received the "You Make a Difference" Award from the board for continued improvements at Clara Hall Elementary and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. Gray commended the teamwork of the two principals as exemplary.
"It's a collaborative effort throughout the school year," said Robertson, Clara Hall principal.
School officials announced two weeks ago that Clara Hall Elementary's performance on state tests had improved enough to move the school off of an academically unacceptable list.
Anderson said success at MLK was due not only to teamwork with Robertson and Clara Hall, but also with the teachers and staff at the school.
"They work extremely hard and I am so proud of them," said Anderson. "We've just got to kick it up a notch and do even better."
In other business, the school board unanimously approved adoption of millage rates for the 2009 tax year.
Chief financial officer Derrinda Flowers said the rate would "increase slightly" from 39.6 mills in 2008 to 41.6 mills in 2009. The additional 2 mills will be used to offset expenses from the system's debt services account.
Flowers said the school board reduced the debt service millage for several years but recent projects have depleted the account, which is used to pay interest on bonds and loans.
"We've decreased those in the last three years," said Flowers. "So we've increased that to replenish those funds."