Pinellas reluctantly okays Race to the Top application
Pinellas County school board members reluctantly approved the district's 441-page application for $15.9-million in Race to the Top funds Tuesday following extensive discussion of whether the state's rules for teacher evaluations and post-grant sustainability were something they were ready to approve.
The board took issue with state language that would have required that by the end of the four-year grant, 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be tied to student performance. A teacher evaluation currently being piloted in Pinellas County calls for 30 percent to be tied to student performance.
"I don't want to sign something that we're not going to make a conscious effort to abide by," said board member Carol Cook, adding that she worried that if they signed off on the application as written that the district could face penalties if, down the road, it wasn't in compliance.
Board member Linda Lerner was perhaps most vocal about the issue before the board voted 5-2 to change the 50 percent to read 40 percent. Robin Wikle and Mary Brown dissented, both saying they believed it was too late to make an issue of the number.
"At least we will send a strong message," Lerner said.
Also at Lerner's request, the board unanimously clarified language that would have bound it to "continue the efforts beyond the end of the grant funding by allocating district operating funds," by adding they would do so "subject to collective bargaining and availability of funding."
The additional language echoes wording that surfaced in 15 local side agreements that Florida school districts and local teachers unions signed earlier this year, even as they were simultaneously agreeing to be part of the state's Race to the Top application. Some education observers said the side agreements undermined the intent of Race to the Top to create long-term change, but federal reviewers did not read them before scoring Florida's application.
After all the changes were made, the Pinellas board voted 6-1 to approve the entire application.
Chair Janet Clark was the lone dissent, challenging the entire premise of the federal reform effort, pointing to numerous unknowns about the sustainability of the effort: "I do not like Race to the Top," she said. "I do not like the direction these reforms are taking our district. I think we're making a huge mistake to support this ... We have no idea what we're getting into."
Kim Black, present of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said she too was "holding my nose" in her support of the plan, saying the precriptive nature of the state's approach of Race to the Top appears to be increasing increasingly limiting local control and teacher buy-in.
- Rebecca Catalanello, Times Staff Writer