School Board intends to take part in Race to the Top

The statement of intent is non-binding and the board can decide later whether or not to submit a grant application.

Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 11:32 p.m.

While many questions remain unanswered, the Alachua County School Board joined most districts around the state in stating its intent to participate in the Race to the Top federal grant process, which could mean millions of dollars for the state.

The statement of intent, however, is non-binding and the board can decide later whether or not to submit a grant application to the state for the federal funds.

The $4.35 billion competitive federal grant is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and targeted toward school reform.

Grant announcements are expected at the state level by mid-April.

As of last week, 60 of the state's 67 school districts and three lab schools stated their intent to participate.

In addition to the local school district, P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida also planned to participate.

During Tuesday's school board meeting, members were given an overview of the grant process.

Everett Caudle, director of project development, told the board many questions remain unanswered, including how much money may come to Alachua County.

The grant will require that states address standards and assessments, recruitment and development along with rewards for effective teachers and principals, develop data systems to measure student success and turn around low-achieving schools.

School board members voiced concerns about a variety of issues with the grant process.

"I have objections to this because I don't think the state is implementing this the way the federal government intended," said school board member Eileen Roy.

Tina Pinkoson added that it's like the state is dangling a carrot in front of districts, "if you don't sign this you don't get the money."

Barbara Sharpe wondered what would be the fallout if the district did not support the effort.

"I have little confidence in it and I feel like we will give up local control," Sharpe said.

Ginger Childs, board chair, said she is hopeful the state will modify the grant requirements.

Members also echoed the concerns of Alachua County Education Association President Gunnar Paulson, who said he worries that the funding will not be sustainable after the four-year grant period.

Paulson also said he believes the cost of implementing the requirements far exceed the amount the district would receive from the grant.

He did not sign on to support the district's participation in the grant process.

In a separate letter, however, he agreed to work with the district, outside of the union's collective bargaining agreement, to come up with a way to implement the grant that would be beneficial to the district.

"I think this is over the top and when I first heard about it I thought it would be a good thing, but not now," he said. "I am not willing to mortgage the school district for the next 20 or 30 years ..."

In recent weeks, the president of the Florida Education Association urged local education associations not to support efforts to participate in the federal grant.

According to the state Department of Education, only five local union presidents around the state have signed on in favor of the grant.

In other board action on Tuesday:

Kevin Purvis was named principal of Oak View Middle School in Newberry to replace Karen Clarke, who took over as the district's director of secondary education earlier this month.

Purvis, 38 and a native of Newberry, has served as the school's assistant principal since 2006.

He has been filling in as the school's interim principal since Clarke's promotion.

Joan Longstreth, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources, will retire as of Jan. 31.

Longstreth, the former principal of Oak View Middle School and Buchholz High School, has served in her current role for six years.

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