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Hernando County schools will vie for Race to the Top grant money

BROOKSVILLE — Count Hernando in for the Race to the Top — and this time, you can count the teachers' union in, too.

The School Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to join the state's effort to win $700 million in federal grant money. Hernando would get a $2.2 million share.

During a workshop earlier in the day, Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president Joe Vitalo told the board he would sign off on the memorandum of understanding with the state if the district agreed to a separate, local agreement that clarifies the scope of negotiations on aspects of the grant, like performance pay, and releases the parties from participation if those negotiations fail.

Unions throughout the state are asking for the same good-faith pact even though the memo of understanding already says districts can bail if unions and districts can't come to terms after Florida gets the grant.

Vitalo, working with a template crafted during a meeting of union presidents over the weekend, said he got the School Board attorney to sign off on the language with a few minor tweaks Tuesday afternoon.

"If the parties can't come to an agreement, then we step out," Vitalo said.

The Hernando union, like all but five unions in the state, refused to sign off on the first Race to the Top application earlier this year, saying the requirements were too much, too fast.

The School Board voted 3 to 2 at the time to send the memo without Vitalo's signature, but the state didn't get the grant. Revisions to the requirements in this second round have eased the union's major concerns, Vitalo said.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt urged the board to once again get in the hunt.

"It is a significant amount of money, and we have the opt-out availability if it doesn't conform to what we're willing to do," Blavatt said.

Though the vote was unanimous this time, at least one board member said he's still wary.

"We'll look at going for a swim and if the water's too cold, we'll get out," board member John Sweeney said. "But I'm very suspicious and cautious."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or at (352) 848-1431.

Hernando County schools will vie for Race to the Top grant money 05/19/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 8:19pm]

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