Saturday, May 26, 2018
Education

Pasco schools seeking $40 million from Race to the Top

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County school district has applied for $40 million in the Obama administration's latest round of Race to the Top, news that came as a surprise to School Board members on Wednesday — a day after the deadline would have passed if Hurricane Sandy had not forced an extension.

"That's brand-new to me," said board member Steve Luikart, who aired doubts in 2010 when the district's joined in the state's application for Race to the Top funds. "I still have questions about taking money from the federal government, because it always costs us money."

Board members Allen Altman and Alison Crumbley also said they were unaware of the application from Superintendent Heather Fiorentino's staff, despite the district's "intent to apply" letter back in August. They also had questions about the requirements the district would have to meet if it wins a piece of the total fund of $400 million.

"What are the strings attached?" Crumbley wondered. "What are the mandates? I don't know anything about this."

The board is scheduled to consider the grant proposal at its meeting Tuesday.

Kurt Browning, who faces token write-in opposition for the superintendent's job in Tuesday's general election, said he had not been consulted. He did not have any information about the priorities, including the primary one listed on the U.S. Department of Education's website — the design of "personalized learning environments" for students.

The district's application also talks about creating new assessments of student achievement, developing training to help teachers transform into instructional coaches, and implementing a new student data system.

Without added information, Browning hesitated to say whether he supported the proposal.

Several of the 892 school districts nationwide that signaled their intent to apply for the grant, which is likely to be split among 15 to 20 districts, decided not to file the paperwork in the end, according to news reports.

The Palm Beach and Los Angeles school districts, for instance, could not reach accords with their teachers union that would allow them to meet the aims of the grant. The Waterloo, Iowa, school district backed out after deciding it could not field a competitive proposal.

Others, including Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, moved ahead with their applications after discussing the merits with their board members and teacher associations.

In Pasco, the United School Employees of Pasco got on board in time to meet the deadline. USEP president Lynne Webb, who was among the first teacher leaders in Florida to reject the first Race to the Top application, said she had fewer reservations this time around. "It is not as drastic as the components that were in the original Race to the Top," Webb said, adding that the district sought input from her team while preparing the application. "We agreed to apply. If they get the grant, then we will negotiate the impact."

School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley and vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, told of the grant midmorning on Wednesday, supported the effort.

Both noted that the grant requirements fall in line with what the district is already doing and the state already mandates. Two years ago, the issue of whether to participate in Race to the Top was more contentious, Armstrong said, because the state rules on evaluations, testing and so forth were not in place.

"We know we're going to have to spend the money on these items," she said. "It only makes sense to take advantage of the (grant) money if we can get it."

Hurley, who as chairwoman has set the board's workshop agendas, could not explain why the board had not discussed the grant, which was first announced by the Obama administration in May. She said this latest incarnation of Race to the Top did not seem controversial to her. "I am in favor of applying for it," Hurley said. "I'm comfortable this time."

Assistant superintendent John Mann said the administration did not bring the grant proposal to the board ahead of time for a couple of reasons. First, he said, the time was short to prepare all the materials. Second, the grant objectives were aligned with district goals and state and federal mandates.

"If there was anything controversial, that's when we would bring it to the board up front," said district grant writer Tammy Rabon, noting that the board had plenty of time to discuss the first Race to the Top grant.

Luikart said he had no issue with the superintendent's staff preparing the application. That's their job, he said. The concern, he continued, remained how much the district would have to spend beyond any award it might get.

"I'm not one to turn down any free money," Luikart said. "But I understand there's no such thing as free money. I'm more open-minded now than I was before. But I'm still skeptical."

Comments
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA — Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively’s Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Published: 05/25/18
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

TAMPA — The company hired by the Hillsborough County School District to fill more than 170,000 substitute teaching shifts every year is defending its record, saying it works to get to the bottom of allegations against employees, treat them fairly and...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18