Levy schools back in contention for $1.1 million

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By The Staff

The School Board of Levy County is eligible for $1.1 million over four years from the federal Race to the Top fund, according to Superintendent Bob Hastings.

Speaking before the school board on Tuesday, Hastings said he received word from the Florida Department of Education that Levy County was still eligible for the money from the federal education program.

The superintendent, school board president and union president from each of Florida's school districts were required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to originally be considered for the funding, if it is to be awarded to the state. The school district did not receive a signature from the union president.

This is the second round of funding from the Race to the Top program. Florida did not win the $1.1 billion in funding it requested during the first round, falling short of the requirements of the application. This time around, Florida is asking for about $700 million.

But, the money comes with stipulations, Hastings said. Despite the union not signing off on the MOU during the application process, it must agree to required terms with the board in order for the school district to receive the money if Florida wins the grant.

Hastings said there was a "tremendous push" at the state level to make the funding less of a competitive grant, and more accessible to school districts.

And, according to Hastings, the state could use the money now more than ever.

Despite the positive news about federal funding, Hastings tempered the announcement with a more dire statement about the current state of Florida's economy. Citing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Hastings said millions of dollars in revenue arenot coming in, which he said could worsen funding for schools.

Hastings said he met with members of the finance department at the DOE, who told him to expect special sessions in the near future from the state legislature about reducing funding to school districts' general funds.

Finally, Hastings addressed the state's class size amendment, telling the board it would be very difficult to reduce area classes to 18 on a class-by-class basis.

Hastings cited Cedar Key School as an example, saying that 23 students were expected to enter third grade next school year, and the district couldn't afford to hire another teacher for four or five students.

"So what, exactly, are we supposed to do?" Hastings said. "We're not working in the best interest of our students here."

Hastings added that a bill passed by the legislature exempted charter schools from the amendment, despite that they also receive funds from the state. Hastings said the association of superintendents for Florida will be filing a lawsuit with the state asking for public schools to be eligible for the same treatment.