March 24, 2018
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Island school expects to lose out on grants

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

DEER ISLE, Maine — Officials at the Deer Isle-Stonington school district were awaiting formal notification Monday that the high school was out of the running for more than $1 million in federal school improvement grants.

The school district applied for the funds earlier this year after it was included among a list of the state’s 10 consistently low-performing schools, as determined by a formula that included recent student SAT scores.

The high school was notified in July that it would receive $1.6 million, part of the $13.3 million allocated to the state under the federal program, but since has run into problems with its application. Although school officials have been working with the Maine Department of Education to revise the application, it now appears that a requirement in the federal program could make the high school ineligible for the funds.

“We’re expecting the official rejection letter as we speak,” Union 76 Superintendent Robert Webster said Monday.

At issue, Webster said, is a requirement in the federal school improvement grant program that the entire high school become a Title I school. That designation comes with the additional requirement that all teachers be “highly qualified teachers.” In order to be considered a highly qualified teacher, instructors must be fully certified in each of the subjects they teach, according to Webster.

Under those requirements, the high school has three teachers who don’t qualify, he said. Although not fully certified, he said, those three teachers have provisional or transitional certification. Some already are working toward full certification, he said.

“It’s a small-school thing,” Webster said. “We have a teacher who is fully certified in Spanish who also teaches French and is not certified in that. We just don’t have full-time positions for French and Spanish.”

Webster said that they were notified in March or April that the high school would have to become a Title I school, but the full ramifications of that were not initially clear. The high school already had a targeted-needs Title I program, which did not require certified teachers. The high school also has a separate school improvement program, also funded through the federal Title I program, which also did not require that all teachers be highly qualified.

“We did not realize — and we should have — that the regulation for [highly qualified teachers] would have to be complied with,” he said. “That did not initially raise any red flags for us.”

Webster lays part of the blame for the confusion on the Maine Department of Education, which in its rush to obtain the federal grant funds did not lay out all of the details of the grant requirements, he said.

“They were making up the rules as they went along,” Webster said. “They told us we were going to get the money in June, and then they told us that we ‘read too much’ into that.”

The school department has submitted a number of revisions to its application, and Webster said school officials have developed a plan to meet the highly qualified teacher requirement during this school year.

“They have to be willing to work with us on this issue,” he said. “We told them we have a plan to make it happen by next spring. But that was not a compelling argument to them to do anything differently.”

Officials from the Maine DOE could not be reached for comment Monday.

Earlier this month, the Deer Isle-Stonington School Committee decided not to withdraw its application. Instead, Webster said, the committee will appeal the decision to the federal Department of Education.

“We’ve already indicated to the Maine Department of Education that we intend to appeal to the DOE in Washington, D.C.,” Webster said. “There’s no appeal process, but we’re just going to shake the tree and see what falls.”

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