The school board will decide at its Oct. 25 meeting whether to officially apply for the money, though the board gave district staff permission in June to work on a grant application.
The application for a portion of the $400 million, four-year grant is due to the U.S. Department of Education by Oct. 30.
Grants of between $5 million and $40 million are expected to be awarded to up to 25 districts, and about 200 districts are expected to compete for the cash. Winners will be notified by Dec. 31.
Cobb’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Judi Jones, said if the district wins the grant — which it is calling R.E.A.C.H., for rigor, excellence, attitude, challenge and hope — the money would be used at 10 of the district’s middle schools. Specific schools have not been determined.
It would pay for professional development for teachers and administrators as well as for projects to improve students’ transitions into and out of middle school. The school day could also be restructured and individual graduation plans developed.
“As long as I’ve been in the central office … middle school has always been one of those areas where we struggle,” Jones told school board members on Wednesday.
Jones hopes to implement the middle-school focus even if the district does not win this grant. But that would mean seeking money elsewhere.
“Much of what we’re doing is professional development,” Jones said. “We’re working to restructure the middle school to change what we’re doing over the course of four years. We hope to put it up in such a way that there won’t be any continued costs afterwards. We’re investing some money in personnel in the beginning, but much of that is instructional specialists so that we can coach teachers.”
And if the district does not get this grant, “we still have a good plan for how we’ll help middle schools,” Jones said.
Board member Alison Bartlett, who represents west-central Cobb, asked Jones how the district will sustain whatever is implemented after the money goes away.
“The way we’ve worked the budget, there will not be a cost,” Jones said. The district may be able to hire 10 “coaches” whom Jones hopes to absorb as teachers after four years.
Board member Kathleen Angelucci, who represents north Cobb, asked what will happen if President Barack Obama, who implemented the federal grant in 2009, is not reelected.
“Is there a Plan B?” she asked. “I’m just trying to think down the road and how this will impact us financially.”
Jones said the winners will be announced after the election.
Hinojosa also said that if the grant were “undone” by the presidential election, he doesn’t believe the cash flow would stop right away.
“We would have due notice — if we were lucky enough to get the grant,” he said. “There are 200 districts our size competing for the same dollars, and under competitive grants, you have very few winners and a lot of losers.”
The Cobb school district and school boards have had a rocky relationship regarding RTTT.
Earlier this year, the district had to pass up an award of $50,000 in RTTT money that it had sought to create a STEM charter school when no other entity was willing to run the school. The district itself is prohibited from starting new charter schools. District executives also applied for RTTT money to help pay for Teach For America teachers.
The school board did not debate, let alone approve, either of those grant applications in open session.
Dr. Hinojosa’s predecessor, Superintendent Fred Sanderson, urged a previous school board away from seeking any of the RTTT money, but that also was not discussed in public.