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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hernando joins Race to the Top



BROOKSVILLE – Count Hernando in the race. Tentatively, anyway.

The School Board voted 3 to 1 Thursday to send a letter to the Florida Department of Education stating its intent to participate in the state’s effort to garner millions of grant dollars through the federal government’s Race to the Top program.

The move wasn’t without hesitation, trepidation and a bit of griping about the state’s timetable, though.

State education officials sent out material, including the requirements for districts to participate, Wednesday night. The deadline for districts to submit a letter of intent to participate is Dec. 18, with a memo of understanding due Jan. 12. That had Hernando district and teacher union officials scrambling to be able to present details to the board during its last meeting before both of those deadlines.

Board members were hesitant to commit after such little time to review the the language (Check out the documents for yourself: Participating LEA MOU and Race to the Top MOU Package).
Eric Williams, the district’s grant writer, all but recommended the board move forward.

Hernando’s share if the state wins $700 million could be as much as $8 million over the next four years, Williams said. And since Florida’s strategies to land the grant meant to reward innovation include so many requirements already in the new differentiated accountability model, it makes sense to sign up for the chance to score dollars to make those things happen, Williams said.

“We have the opportunity to have a funded mandate rather than an unfunded mandate,” he said. “We can opt out from participating in this, but eventually we’re going to be required to do these things later.”

The teachers union, which also has to sign off on the memo, agrees generally with that sentiment, Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president Joe Vitalo told the board.

The state requires districts and unions to make their “best efforts” through collective bargaining to agree on issues such as differential and performance pay. If an agreement isn’t reached, the district is out. The union will be taking a hard look at those issues and won’t agree to anything that isn’t fair to teachers, Vitalo said.

That, in turn, protects the district, he said.

“We’re the safeguard,” Vitalo said.

Chairman Pat Fagan said it eased his mind a bit that teachers an equal say.

“We need every dime we can possibly get,” Fagan said. “If they don’t feel comfortable with it, I’m sure without a doubt in my mind they won’t sign off on it."

Board member John Sweeney, the lone dissenter, said he worried the board, tempted by cash, could be ceding too much power to bureaucrats.

“When the tentacles latch on to you, you’re a slave to what they want you to do,” he said. “I don’t want to give up local control based on an unknown.”

--Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:44am]


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