Tennessee's top education official acknowledged that the state's Race to the Top win likely will end up costing Hamilton County Schools money, but said the cost is worthwhile.
During a Race to the Top summit Friday in Chattanooga, Education Commissioner Tim Webb said school district leaders across the state need to rethink the way they use their resources.
"It's not business as usual anymore, and it means some very difficult decisions that will have to be made," he said. "Eleven million dollars can do a lot of good in Hamilton County, and the tradeoff is worth it."
He added that he wished he could call up local education leaders and offer money to help pay for any administrative costs associated with implementation of the federal initiative, but that that "isn't going to happen."
The upfront cost of administering Race to the Top programs came up Thursday night during a Hamilton County Board of Education budget work session.
Hamilton County Schools' Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz said the district will end up paying an "indirect cost rate" of about 2 percent for the Race to the Top money budgeted for the first year of the four-year grant.
They were asked to spend at least 25 percent of their allotment in the first year, he said, so the indirect cost for next school year likely will be about $55,000.
Mr. Kranz also said that, when money starts coming to the district this summer, it will affect the system's cash flow because the district must pay all upfront costs for Race to the Top programs and the federal government will then reimburse the state.
School board member Rhonda Thurman said she was concerned about Tennessee's promises to provide such things as remedial classes for students and extra data collection.
"Somebody's going to have to keep up with that," she said. "It will end up costing us money, and we have no idea how much."
But Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who also made a brief stop by the Race to the Top summit at the EPB headquarters on M.L. King Boulevard, said he hadn't heard any concerns from school officials around the state about anticipated extra costs.
"The way Race to the Top is structured, (the money) should be used just as a straight add-on," he said.
RACE TO THE TOP FUNDS
Hamilton County's $10.9 million can be used for:
* Offering professional development for staff
* Improving teacher quality and principal leadership
* Using data to refine instruction and turn around low-performing schools
Source: Hamilton County Schools
If school systems feel they are unable to pay to administer Race to the Top, he said, state officials could talk to the federal government and share their concerns.
"I don't anticipate that as a problem," he said.
Along with Dr. Webb and other officials, the governor spoke Friday of the federal grant money as a "pivot point" in Tennessee's public education system.
"Five hundred million (dollars), even in government, is nothing to sneeze at, but the change in attitudes and expectations in the state is the best thing to come (from Race to the Top)," he said.
Gov. Bredesen also acknowledged that, after a new governor is elected later this year, implementing the federal initiative likely will cause friction among lawmakers, teachers and administrators.
"There will be things that people don't like. When that happens, don't let people spin off from (Race to the Top)," he said. "Anything worth doing will have some friction with it."
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