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Pinellas teachers support revised application for Race to the Top grant

The teachers union in Gov. Charlie Crist's home county of Pinellas indicated Friday it will support the state's revised application for a $700 million Race to the Top grant, making it the first big-district union in Florida to do so.

The move could be a sign that the state's teachers unions, who nearly all opposed Florida's first application, are on board with the revisions that were hammered out after Crist formed a task to address the lack of union buy-in.

Pinellas union president Kim Black said union representatives gave her a green light late Thursday to sign a revised memorandum of understanding that is key to the application.

"It's not like they were holding their nose, but I could sense a bit of hesitancy. We just survived Hurricane Senate Bill 6," said Black, referring to a controversial teacher tenure bill that Crist vetoed. "But our initial concerns with the first memorandum of understanding have been addressed."

Crist appointed Black to the task force. But she said she told members that her appointment "in no way locks them in" to supporting the revised memorandum.

Florida's first Race to the Top application, which narrowly missed winning, would have sparked big changes in how Florida pays and evaluates teachers. But only five of Florida's 67 local teachers unions - and only two big-district unions, Hillsborough's and Duval's - signed on, complaining that it was too much too fast.

The revised application includes a more flexible way of evaluating teachers, including a less stringent definition of student performance. It allows district to target the mandated changes to the most struggling schools, rather than putting them in place district wide. And it also better protects unions from having some changes imposed on them by districts.

The memorandum seeks to get signatures from the superintendent, school board chair and union president in each district. Pinellas Superintendent Julie Janssen the school board supported the first memorandum, but have not revisited the issue.

The board is expected to discuss the issue at May 20 workshop. They're expected to vote on the matter May 25, the same day all signatures are due to the state Department of Education.

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

Pinellas teachers support revised application for Race to the Top grant 05/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 3:42pm]
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