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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas school board will sign Race to the Top form



Pinellas is still in. The Pinellas County School Board voted 7-0 today to sign the memorandum of understanding that is part of the state's application for up to $700 million in federal Race to the Top money.

The vote came despite strong objections from several board members to the state's requirements for participation. But members were apparently swayed by assurances from Superintendent Julie Janssen and school board attorney Jim Robinson that there will be opportunities to drop out later if their concerns are not addressed.

"I can still say no," board chair Janet Clark told The Gradebook after the vote.

The state's application is a growing topic of concern statewide because of its potentially far-reaching impact to Florida schools. Among other things, it would force big changes to the way teachers and principals are evaluated and paid.

The board's decision came after the Pinellas teachers union urged it to delay its vote until Tuesday, which is the deadline for superintendents, school board chairpersons and local union presidents to sign. The union hopes state union president Andy Ford can wrangle concessions by then from Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith.

"It's very symbolic in Pinellas County that we all be on the same page at the same time," union president Kim Black told the board. "We're just asking for a few more days to continue our discussion" with Smith.

The board voted 5-2 on a motion to postpone until Tuesday. Board members Linda Lerner and Nina Hayden voted in favor. Board members Carol Cook, Mary Brown, Peggy O'Shea, Robin Wikle and Clark voted against it.

The board did agree, however, to postpone sending the signatures of Clark and Janssen to the state Department of Education until Tuesday. If the MOU is amended before then, the board would have the opportunity to revisit the issue at Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting.

Black also asked the board  toconduct a cost analysis of the state's requirements, noting that some districts estimate the proposed changes will cost the districts more than the Race to the Top money will cover. But Janssen said that can't happen until the district develops its local plan for the money, which won't happen until after the state finds out in late spring whether it has won the grant. "It's impossible for me to cost out a plan we haven't written," she said.

The grant could bring $7.4 million to $14.8 million to Pinellas over four years, assuming all 67 Florida districts participate. If fewer districts sign up, the other districts' share of the pie will grow. Janssen has said Pinellas could get up to $26 million.

"I don't know if $4 million to $6 million a year is worth selling our souls for," Clark said before the vote. "It's not even enough to give our teachers raises."

"Maybe this is a pittance to you," countered board member Mary Brown. "But this district needs some funds."

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:46am]


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