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While more than half of the school districts, county education offices and charter schools in California have sent letters that could help the state in its bid for more school stimulus dollars, San Diego Unified has decided against signing on so far, with only a few days left before its deadline to join.

That means that unless San Diego Unified changes its mind, it will not get a slice of extra stimulus money if California wins more under the first round of Race to the Top, a stiff competition for federal money for schools. The school district could, however, have a shot at the dollars if California wins in the second round after losing out in the first — but it would still have to sign on to the favored reforms.

Why is San Diego Unified sitting it out? Spokesman Bernie Rhinerson said there are too many unknowns about what California will require schools to do with the money and what, if anything, the changes would actually cost the school district. Some of the favored changes, such as tying test scores to teacher evaluation, are unpopular with the San Diego Unified board.

San Diego Unified is the largest school district to sit out the stimulus race in California: Los Angeles Unified, Fresno, Garden Grove, San Francisco, Sacramento and other large districts have sent in letters to show that they want to partner with California on any Race to the Top plans, along with smaller local districts such as Sweetwater and Chula Vista Elementary and charter schools such as O’Farrell and the Preuss School.

Getting school districts to sign on could help states like California compete in Race to the Top by showing that local agencies are on board with the reforms favored by the Obama Administration. It’s the same reason that states have been trying to woo teachers unions to sign on.

Besides courting school districts to improve its shot at the money, California is still scrambling to pass a law that enables changes such as aggressively turning around struggling schools and building better data systems.

This is the first phase of the stimulus competition, which will ultimately distribute more than $4 billion nationwide, possibly to only a handful of states. States will only go into the second round if they don’t win money in the first. Rhinerson said San Diego Unified will continue to monitor the California legislation and could reconsider when more information is available on what the reforms will entail.

— EMILY ALPERT

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