$30 Million Grant Application Fails to Receive Union Signature

School Board approves grant, but Howard County Education Association says it doesn’t have enough time to vote on it.


A potential $30 million federal grant to Howard County Public Schools may be dead before the application is even submitted to Washington.

The issue has pitted new Superintendent Renee Foose squarely against Paul Lemle, the president of the Howard County Education Association.

Foose said Lemle has a "political motive" to promote candidates the organization supports before the upcoming election, while Lemle claims the school’s central office didn’t involve the teacher’s union in the grant writing process and that this Race to the Top grant will continue to tie teachers’ evaluations with standardized test scores.

The grant, if awarded, would provide the county’s schools with $20 million to $30 million to help teachers use technology to create individualized instruction models for struggling students, according to Linda Wise, deputy superintendent of curriculum. The deadline to submit the grant is Friday at 4:30 p.m.

The grant requires signatures from the superintendent, the chair of the board of education and the president of the teachers’ union. On Wednesday, the board voted 5-2 to sign the application, with board members Brian Meshkin and Cindy Vaillancourt voting against it.

However, Lemle said on Thursday the HCEA didn’t have enough time to review the grant application and therefore he wouldn’t sign it.

“We didn’t even see a copy of the grant in its entirety until Sunday morning of this hurricane weekend,” said Lemle.

At the board meeting Wednesday night, Lemle said there wouldn’t be enough time for his organization to review and vote on the application. HCEA’s bylaws require three-day notice for its board of directors and representative council to vote on issues. In this case, three-day notice is impossible, because the grant application is due on Friday, a fact Lemle admitted he did not know until Wednesday evening, due to deadline changes from the hurricane. The original submission deadline was Oct. 30.

The time crunch is the result of a 10-week-period to write the grant. Foose said central office staff worked feverishly to complete the complicated proposal before the deadline and didn’t finish until this weekend. The grant has been kept secret from the public because it’s competitive and other districts may use the county’s language if it were to release the application publicly before the grants are submitted, school officials said.

“We wanted to make sure we got it right,” said Foose. “Whenever you write a federal grant, time’s always a problem, that’s just how the federal government does business. The issue here is there is a larger political agenda. [Lemle] sent out an email last night to his constituents talking about the grant and then basically in that same email lobbying for three people he believes should be on the school board. It’s more of a political motive than a practical motive.”

In response, Lemle said, “It is a political question and it is a policy question, it matters both what politicians vote and what bureaucrats do in implementation.” He said it didn't bother him that Foose said the issue is political.

Lemle said despite HCEA having veto power, the organization was not included in the grant writing process.

Lemle’s concerns with the grant are that it will use standardized test scores to evaluate employee performance and that it may impact HCEA’s collective bargaining agreement with the school system.

He said the grant is a Race to the Top Grant and that signing on would require the school system to follow the U.S. Department of Education’s model of using testing to evaluate teachers.

“The school system failed on the front end to include us until dropping the grant on us and saying collaborate,” said Lemle.

However, Foose said she invited Lemle to join the grant writing process on Oct. 17.

“They were as involved as they chose to be,” said Foose. “I personally invited him, if you want to come in and sit down with a pencil and start writing with these folks, then please do.”

Lemle confirmed at the meeting on Wednesday that Foose spoke with him about the grant on Oct. 17.

“We’ve had more conversations with Paul Lemle in the past six weeks than probably in the last six months,” said Foose.

She added that this grant has nothing to do with the current teacher evaluation model and is separate from earlier Race to the Top grants.

“It has nothing to do with the teacher effectiveness model,” said Foose. “This is an opportunity to leverage the teacher effectiveness model with the original Race to the Top Grant in such a way that it is more teacher-friendly and de-emphasizes any standardized testing whatsoever.”

She said the county schools that scored the lowest on the latest Maryland state assessment would be the schools that would receive the grant money to give teachers the tools to offset standardized testing.

The two board members who voted against signing the grant application, Meshkin and Vaillancourt, said they did so because there was no memorandum of agreement between the superintendent and HCEA that they would work out their concerns.

“We didn’t give the teachers’ union something to approve,” said Meshkin on Thursday. “I think that was a fatal mistake.”

HCEA’s board of directors met on Oct. 26 and voted against signing the grant application because they didn’t have a final copy, according to Lemle.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Vaillancourt said, “I do not want to hear the union blamed for this when we already know what their schedules are like.”

Meshkin attempted to put forth an amendment that would have allowed HCEA to deal with their concerns after the grant was submitted, but the board voted it down.

On Thursday, Foose said she spoke with Lemle about a memorandum of understanding similar to what Baltimore County Schools had done on their application, but they were unable to come to an agreement.

Lemle said there was no possibility of him signing onto the application on Thursday afternoon.

The application has the support of County Executive Ken Ulman as well as County Council Chairperson Mary Kay Sigaty. Sigaty said the grant would directly affect a number of schools in her district in Columbia as well as schools in Savage and Laurel.

“We know that there are challenges for those populations,” said Sigaty at the meeting on Wednsday.

“I applaud your embrace of individualized instruction efforts and a greater use of technology to close the achievement gap that unfortunately persists in Howard County schools,” wrote Ulman in a letter of support to Superintendent Foose.

Foose said the application would be submitted without the union’s support. 

“Baltimore County signed on to it after they put a memo of understanding on it,” said Foose, “Prince George’s county signed onto it. Why can’t we sign on to it?”

Do you think the application should be signed by the Howard County Education Association?

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MG42 November 01, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Btw, LOL at a school system who thinks they can effectively use $30 million in federal tax money to implement a program to use tech to help struggling students, but that same school system CAN"T EVEN USE TWITTER.
Truthteller November 01, 2012 at 09:52 PM
"The grant requires signatures from the superintendent, the chair of the board of education and the president of the teachers’ union". If this statement is true, the person/committee in charge of introducing this grant bears the responsibility for completing/presenting it in a timely manner, which should include time for the president of the union to review it. Do we not expect our students to act responsibly and complete their assignments according to the required deadlines? Or.... have we lowered our standards for this requirement too? Tsk-Tsk.
anonomous November 01, 2012 at 11:09 PM
I dont think its any of the above.. the grant is for apparently an application (an APP for that) for teachers to use as a tool to help lower level students progress.. why all the signatures and political involvement is just that.. Politics.. as it is and always will be until someone steps in and cuts all the red tape (crap if you will) Perhaps a change in government is what is really needed not such political road blocks... 20 to 30 Mil.. and you guys are against it.. really ??
MG42 November 01, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Any thinking person is against this. It's absurd that the feds are offering such a grant, it's absurd the politics that are involved, and it's really absurd that teachers are unionized. Teachers do not work in sweatshops- they work in climate controlled buildings for the part of the year that they actually show up to work. Most of them have worthless liberal arts degrees in subjects like music, history or other such nonsense that would get them exactly zero job offers in the real world. Teachers are the most overpaid and overrated professionals out there.
Michael November 01, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Sounds like politics and incompetence at all levels to me. Blow it up and start all over again. Eventually Howard Co. will get people with brains capable of running things the way it should be done.
ReadingExchange November 01, 2012 at 11:50 PM
ReadingExchange 7:46 pm on Thursday, November 1, 2012 Race to the Top (RttT) has never been vetted. No one knows if it will be effective or not. This grand experiment will be expensive to maintain when the federal dollars dry up, and they will. The PARCC assessments alone will be very expensive. RttT requires much more testing than NCLB ever did. There are many grassroots groups across the country who are not on board with RttT. Parents Across America is one such organization and their membership is growing. I appreciate that HCEA values quality educational initiatives over short term federal dollars. The future direction of HCPSS is at stake and RttT is a trap. It is important that people learn what RttT is all about. This link may help you get started. http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/26/will-educators-disgust-with-race-to-the-top-affect-the-election/
Jack November 02, 2012 at 04:04 AM
"The grant has been kept secret from the public because" We are always treated like we are stupid. The BOE hired Foose and gave her a 100 thousand dollar pay raise behind our backs in a motel. When they introduced her we were not allowed to ask questions. Looks like we got the under the table special for a super. How does Foose in her mind think this helps hcea endorsements, if anything it hurts them because most people don't see the hook in the millions of dollars in bait. Sad part is if you tell the public the truth and ask us to help we can accomplish this and more for free. Well, we all know the assessments they teach to are worthless and we all know the county schools are segregated so why don't we quite pretending and demand an overhaul of the hcpss. Time to look at the folks who run the hcpss for what they are, despicble. And yes, everyone would like 20 to 30 mil especially for children who the county has for years ignored but the reality is with the incompetence in the hcpss it would just get pissed away and line some administrators pockets.
Sue Medicus November 02, 2012 at 11:09 AM
I am not certain why Paul Lemle was not involved until october 17th? Apparently the grant has been in process for a long time. What happened to working together? the Administration is responsible for mishandling this greatly. The first thing you do when you have an application is you SEE WHO NEEDS TO BE INVOLVED. THEN YOU INVOLVE THEM FROM DAY ONE. That's from Grant Writing 101. Give me a break. To now blame the Union? The administration is totally to blame, if we had a school board that cared more than just about impeaching school board members and building turf fields, maybe they would get it right. Don't forget that Giles and Siddiqui are a part of the problem DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO STAY IN OFFICE.
Thomas Diller November 02, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Get a life!
Marijane November 02, 2012 at 02:30 PM
This comment is in response to yours about the worthless liberal arts degrees that teachers have. The humanities are where a lot of our values are discussed, and as incredibly useful as math, science, and technology are, I'm unaware of them ever producing, by themselves, any values. So, if we want to help our children find lives WORTH living, we might want to bother to give them sone idea about how to talk about values. But, if we would like to be so simple-minded that we can't imagine value outside of personal net worth, can't think of what personal betterment might be other than becoming more marketable, and can't envision a career outside the sciences, etc., it seems that focusing on math, science, and technology to the exclusion of the humanities would actually be the single most effective way of bringing that about.
MG42 November 02, 2012 at 02:44 PM
MJ- there's nothing wrong with having hobbies related to art, music, history, economics or other liberal art subjects. That doesn't mean you should spend $60,000 on a college degree to pursue a hobby that will leave you in debt and with no job prospects. Btw, science, tech, engineering and math produce tons of value by themselves. Perhaps you have heard of medicine, bridges, computers, etc.
Paul Lemle November 02, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Part 2: On that same Monday (10/22), I did call special meetings of our two democratic, decision making bodies for Friday 10/26 and Monday 10/29. I was hopeful, which in retrospect seems naive, that we could work something out. On Thursday 10/25 I sent an email which warned HCPSS that we absolutely could not sign unless we had the documents in question by the time of our Board of Directors met (4PM Friday). When Dr. Foose called me back, she was upset that I had included Ms. Wise and the lead writer on the email, and said "that's never going to happen," referring to HCEA imposing any kind of deadline. While we did receive sections A and B Thursday night, HCPSS fell silent until Sunday 10/28. Our Board had, of course, voted unanimously against signing, and my voodoo hurricane forced the cancellation of both the Board of Ed's Monday meeting and HCEA's Monday meeting. While we do oppose Race To The Top, this entire acrimonious episode could have been avoided. In Las Vegas, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities, the same outcome occurred for the grant, without a whole bunch of mud-slinging. The unions were at the table from the beginning, and they reached an impasse. HCEA was never allowed near this process, and the impasse was preordained.
Paul Lemle November 02, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Hi All, there is a lot to respond to here, but I will try my best. I love that Jack attributes Hurricane Sandy to my "voodoo." I have some snow coming for you this winter! Dr. Foose called the draft sent to the County Executive (required by USDE) a "30,000 foot overview." We obtained a copy of this 140-page document on 10/19, and it wasn't so much an overview, as, well, a very rough draft. It contained language about how HCEA had been involved from the beginning. Not good (indeed, a fabrication), because the beginning was around September 1. On 10/20, I called Dr. Foose to ask when we would be allowed to participate. She said she would have the lead writer contact me that weekend (didn't happen). She asked me then if I was going to "undermine" the grant. I replied that the sunset (the 2014 expiration of MD's RTTT law) was the key determinant for HCEA. In simple terms, the use of standardized test scores for employee evaluations couldn't continue four more years. Her reply, was, and I quote, "That's fair." I spoke to Linda Wise the same day. She and I had the same discussion, and when she went to Boston on Monday 10/22, she left me a voice message indicating we still could not see the grant. Because I was beginning to feel like we'd get railroaded, I saved that message and am willing to share it. Running out of space, so I will continue on a second post . . .
MG42 November 02, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Oh, I guess MJ meant "values" in terms of morals or whatever. I don't speak hippie. But at any rate, that is a moronic point. Oh if we just teach kids the humanities our society will be so much better yay! Whatever. That's what we've been doing and the only thing it's created is a class of college grads with masters degrees who are unemployed or underemployed.
Paul Lemle November 02, 2012 at 05:45 PM
The link is to a short YouTube video of a conversation between myself and Governor O'Malley on the problem with standardized testing. It kills the innovative and creative teaching that makes educators love their jobs and students love their classes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmZP1Jv5TLE
jen November 03, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Dr. Foose, who came in on a message of transparency and accountability, was neither in this process. She did not give the HCEA the grant on time - as was mandated; she showed a tendency toward deception when angered that Mr. Lemle copied others on an email; and she let her staff blame HCEA for her administration's failure. Board members should have expected more: they should have expected the administration to demonstrate a spirit of collaboration and they should not have blindly endorsed a faulty process, without considering the voice of HCEA.
HoCoTeacher2 November 06, 2012 at 01:56 PM
The acts of Dr. Foose and her staff is just more of the same. As a teacher who works into the night and into the weekends grading papers and creating new lessons for our ever-changing curriculum (oh, but we do work in cushy air-conditioned buildings - what a perk)...the BOE has always operated this way...behind the scenes...bullying their way to follow through on their agendas - WITHOUT input from its stakeholders...and under the guise of "what is best for the children"...what a joke
A. Smith November 09, 2012 at 02:28 AM
I'm upset with the survey Lemle sent out to teachers. I believe he misrepresented the $30 million grant. Clearly, he has an agenda and so does the BOE. I'm disappointed that HCEA can't see the forest through the trees. RTTT is a state mandated program. We will have to follow it regardless of what HCEA wants to happen. As for Pufnstuf, it's a grant application. We were not awarded the grant. As usual, government requires school systems to do things without giving them adequate funds. Howard County tax payers and Maryland tax payers don't have a choice in the matter; we have to implement RTTT. That's why the grant was important.
Jack November 10, 2012 at 05:28 AM
When all this began the hcpss was already 89% in line with common core. The bottom line is rttt will do nothing for our children. In fact it is a joke as our children will now be college and career ready with the reality only 20% will ever graduate college and the hcpss has no plans for any skill or hands on training.
edb November 10, 2012 at 12:25 PM
There is a reason that the state hired Lillian Lowery from Delaware to take over Nancy Grasmick's position. Delaware received RttT grant money. Lilian Lowery was responsible for the implementation of these tests for DPSS and it's RttT funds. The amount of testing has increased so significantly that the only thing those teachers have time to do is teach to a test so that they can administer another test. There seems to be testing quarterly for RttT along with the usual NCLB tests that are administered and the normal state assessments in the great state of Delaware. I have a sister in that school system and she can't wait for retirement. It's a shame that HCPSS will whore out it's teachers for 30 million dollars and then expect them to be happy about it. NO MORE TESTS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS!!!!
ReadingExchange November 11, 2012 at 04:41 PM
The National Center For Fair and Open Testing http://www.fairtest.org/get-involved/opting-out
ReadingExchange November 11, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Why Teacher Evaluations Shouldn't Rest on Test Scores http://fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Teacher-Evaluation-FactSheet-10-12.pdf
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