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Palm Beach abandons Race to the Top

From the Palm Beach Post, by Allison Ross

The Palm Beach County School District’s goal to win a federal grant worth up to $40 million is over before the application was even submitted.

The decision was made Sunday afternoon, after school officials and representatives from the county’s teachers union could not come to an agreement over the Race to the Top grant proposal, according to a statement the district released Sunday evening.

The Palm Beach County School Board had been expected to hold a special meeting Monday to vote on whether to approve the application, which would have been due Tuesday. That meeting has now been canceled. The grant required that both the county’s teachers union and the school board sign off on the application.

Palm Beach County’s is not the only district struggling with whether to apply for the federal grant. Nearly 900 districts across the country in August sent in notices that they they intend to file for a piece of the nearly $400 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education. But since then, a number have fallen out of the running.

For instance, Waterloo (Iowa) Community Schools decided not to compete after filing an intent to apply, saying it decided it was not as competitive as it would like to be.

Meanwhile, school districts such as the Glendale (Calif.) Unified School District and the Los Angeles Unified School District are also making eleventh-hour decisions on whether to apply as they ntodegotiate with their respective teachers unions.

It’s expected that only 15 to 25 grants, worth $5 million to $40 million, will be handed out as part of this Race to the Top competition.

Debra Wilhelm, president of the Classroom Teachers Association, said there simply wasn’t enough time for all the questions and suggestions to be sorted out before the grant application was due.

“We’re not any worse off than we were before,” Wilhelm said. She said the teachers union had been hopeful to get more money into the pockets of teachers with this grant, but that “there wasn’t time to come to an agreement.”

“We’re all part of the same district,” Wilhelm said, adding that she hopes to work with the district again on securing grant money to help everyone in the district.

District and union staff repeatedly have stressed that this latest district-level grant competition is different than the 2010 state-level Race to the Top grant that Florida applied for and got.

Back then, Palm Beach County was one of only a handful of districts in Florida that refused to support the state’s application, after the county’s teachers union said the money came with too many strings attached. That meant the district missed out on millions in additional money.

“The primary thing is that this grant is the district’s creation as opposed to something that was outlined by the state,” said school board vice chairwoman Debra Robinson, who said Sunday she was disappointed the grant application is dead.

Robinson said she believes that there was miscommunication and misinformation among some in the community over the grant proposal. And, she said, there may have been some continuing “post-traumatic stress” over 2010’s Race to the Top competition.

“The people that I heard from were people who were basically still a bit traumatized by the one-size-fits-all experience and were fearful that we were trying to go down that path again, which was definitely not the case,” Robinson said.

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