Portland may benefit directly from next round of federal ‘Race To The Top’ school funding

Jo Anderson, senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, middle, talks with Portland school officials Tuesday morning at Riverton Community School. Joining Anderson are Portland Chief Academic Officer David Galin, left, and Riverton Assistant Principal David Turner. (BDN photo by Seth Koenig)

Yesterday, I wrote about the tour of Portland schools by Jo Anderson, senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Anderson had come to take in firsthand what was touted as a positive partnership between the district and teachers’ union — a relationship that in many places across Maine and the country can be safely described as strained.

For background, in late March 2011, the Portland Education Association (the teachers’ union) agreed to a new three-year contract that extended the school year by five days, froze salaries for two years, and — considering in part the multinational student populations in Portland — tied some professional development money very specifically to additional required training in English as a Second Language (ESL), adolescent literacy and early childhood education.

The contract was described at the time by Superintendent James Morse as “groundbreaking” in that the terms of the agreement were built around driving up student achievement.

Anderson told three members of the school board — as well as Morse and PEA President Kathleen Casasa and others — during an informal Tuesday night workshop at Portland High School that type of approach could place the district in prime position to benefit from federal grant programs slated to be announced or recast in the coming weeks.

Anderson told the local educators and administrators the Teachers Incentive Fund, which had gone dormant over the past year, is due to be revived in the coming month, and will make available federal dollars to encourage performance-based pay for teachers.

He said President Barack Obama plans to call for a still-to-be-formalized amount in his next federal budget proposal to be set aside for “transforming the profession” of teacher. Plus, said Anderson, there’s already $550 million in the pipeline for the fourth round of the administration’s Race To The Top program, with a proposed focus this time on distributing money directly to local districts complying with the administration’s educational visions instead of handing the funding out to state governments as in years past.

“I think there’s going to be priority put on districts working with their unions collaboratively,” Anderson told the Portland group Tuesday night. “I think you’re really well positioned for both of [the funding programs].”

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.