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Pinellas first to endorse revised Race to the Top grant application

Gov. Charlie Crist's home county of Pinellas is the first in Florida to line up crucial support for a revised, $700 million federal grant application aimed at school reform.

The Pinellas County School Board voted 5-1 Tuesday to support a new version of the state's Race to the Top application, which was rejected by 62 of 67 local teachers unions in its first incarnation a few months ago.

The Pinellas union, which opposed the first version, publicly signaled its support for the new one Friday.

"This is a big improvement over what we had last time," said board member Carol Cook.

After the vote, board chairwoman Janet Clark, superintendent Julie Janssen and union president Kim Black all signed a revised memorandum of understanding that is key to the application. The state is seeking signatures from the same officials in every district to show federal authorities that its second attempt has broad buy-in.

Florida's first Race to the Top application would have prompted big changes in how Florida pays and evaluates teachers. But it narrowly missed winning, leading some observers to conclude it fell short because of union opposition.

The revised version offers a more flexible way of evaluating teachers, allows districts to target the mandated changes to the most struggling schools and better protects unions from having changes imposed by districts.

By 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Florida Department of Education had not received a single signature in support. The deadline for other districts and unions to sign the memorandum is May 25.

Pinellas' backing could help persuade other Florida districts to sign.

The governor announced a task force to make revisions on the same day he vetoed SB 6, the controversial teacher tenure bill.

The grant would bring Pinellas at least $14 million over four years.

The board unanimously supported the first version.

Board member Mary Brown was absent Tuesday. And board chairwoman Clark voted no. (She still signed the memorandum as the board's representative.)

"I don't think $3.5 million a year is worth it," said Clark, who expressed reservations about her yes vote the first time. "I still don't trust the people we're dealing with."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Pinellas first to endorse revised Race to the Top grant application 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 11:25pm]
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