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Role in the waiver

About a year ago, the state asked Fort Wayne Community Schools whether some of its officials would talk with federal monitors. At the time, FWCS didn't know why. The request was not unusual.

It turns out that the monitors were gathering information on whether the feds should extend their No Child Left Behind waiver to Indiana. And FWCS was asked to help. So, did FWCS help the state get the waiver?

“I don't know that we know that,” Krista Stockman, the FWCS spokeswoman, said. “We were afraid that when we found we were the only district the feds talked to, we were afraid we hurt the state's chances....Our intentions were always to be a good partner to the state.”

Millions of dollars were at stake. Equally important, without the waiver, the state would have to dispense with its A-F grading system for schools and have to follow federal accountability law. For school districts, that means a lot, because over the last several years, they have been whipsawed back and forth between various accountability standards.

“It would have meant another change in what goals we'd have to meet,” said Stockman said. “It starts to feel like a Ping-Pong match.”

As for the money, had the waiver not been approved, schools would have lost flexibility in how it's spent.

As an example, Stockman cited Title 1 dollars. ( Title I provides financial help to local schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.)

“We might use it for parents education night or afterschool tutoring,” she said, “The state might be told what to do with that money, and that might be less for the district.”

Daniel Altman, the press secretary for the state department of education, said, “If there weren't a waiver, schools would be much more limited in how to use their resources. Our schools make a lot more decisions (with the waiver), and I think that's great.”

In any event, it was a three-way call, with some FWCS leaders, including some principals, some state Department of Education officials, and of course the federal monitors. The feds were interested in how the state was working with priority and focused schools, those identified as needing help to reach the state standards.

“Everybody thought it was a cordial call,” Stockman said. “No one walked away upset.”

In announcing the waiver extension, Glenda Ritz, the superintendent of public instruction, made a point of crediting the hard work of the state Department of Education. Perhaps thanks should also go to FWCS, which helped clarify the role the state plays in education.