A group of community activists is questioning why San Diego Unified is sitting out of Race to the Top, a competition for more federal stimulus dollars for schools.

Though more than half of the school districts, charter schools and county offices of education in the state are not participating, San Diego Unified has attracted attention because it is the largest school system to decide against signing up for the program, shutting it out from any funds if the state succeeds in the federal competition.

Richard Barrera, president of the school board, has argued that it would be irresponsible to sign up for Race to the Top when it is unclear what would be required of schools and whether those changes would actually cost money. The school board majority has also been wary of the reforms touted by the Obama Administration, such as linking teacher evaluations to test scores.

That hasn’t convinced the San Diego Organizing Project, a community organization that aired its concerns before the school board this afternoon. Turning down money seems like a bad idea in the middle of a budget crisis, said Eva Vargas, one of its members.

“It feels as though the district is passing up an opportunity,” she said. “We have not heard clear and specific justification about how taking this money would endanger students and parents.”

SDOP is not the only local group to push for joining the race: A small group of parents held a press conference at the San Diego County Office of Education late last year to advocate for the passage of a state law intended to help California win Race to the Top funds.

— EMILY ALPERT

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