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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough reaches into both pockets for Gates projects



TAMPA -- For months, teachers and observers have been asking Hillsborough County school district officials how they're going to pay for their portion of a $202 million reform effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

And for months, project director David Steele has been explaining. Yes, he says, the district promised the foundation that it would spend $102 million over seven years to complement the foundation's $100 million grant. But it can find that money from funds that have already been budgeted for similar efforts like teacher training, evaluation and technology, he says.

Steele always ends these explanations with a plea: Just don't call them "matching funds."

Tuesday's School Board agenda offers a clear illustration.

There is a $3.2 million item to hire Cambridge Education to train a new corps of peer evaluators this summer, using Gates funds.

But there's also a $360,000 item to buy an online training system to prepare teachers for that new evaluation system. It's a Gates-inspired initiative, but it will be paid for using federal Title II funds for teacher training.

How much the Gates reforms ultimately cost the district is, of course, an open question. The district says the initiative will cost at least $32.5 million a year once the foundation money runs out in seven years.

But it could face unanticipated costs if, for example, more teachers qualify for performance pay once it's introduced in 2013. Since there are no caps in that program, unlike the state's MAP merit pay initiative, its true cost can't be known.

Bottom line: In the context of a $3 billion annual budget, finding $102 million in "matching funds" over the next seven years may be the least of the district's worries.

Tom Marshall, Times staff writer


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:52am]


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