The Lee County School Board said no thanks to the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund offered by the U.S. Department of Education.
School districts wanting to be a part of the Race to the Top program, introduced at the end of 2009, need to make a number of federally mandated changes including teacher salary schedules and employee evaluations.
An application from school districts needs to be submitted to the state by Jan. 19.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, applications need to document successes in the past and present a plan to use standards that focus on offering assessments on whether students are career ready.
The application to the federal government needs to be signed by the superintendent, school board and representatives from the bargaining unit, yet board members said on Tuesday they felt uncomfortable submitting the application after Mark Castellano, president of the Teacher's Association of Lee County, said he wouldn't sign.
Castellano described it as "ill-conceived" and blamed the Florida Department of Education for failing to garner union support.
The board formed a consensus not to participate in the program Tuesday afternoon.
"I am very nervous about anyone signing this," said Board Member Jeanne Dozier. "I don't think the state leadership or local leadership had any part in anything."
Dozier wasn't only concerned about not having local representation in the grant program, but she didn't want the board to sign the application and ram the changes down the throats of union members.
Chairman Steve Teuber said Race to the Top is a chance for Lee County to receive additional funding, but he was afraid the money would stay at the state level.
"We have seen this with tobacco and lottery money, that doesn't mean districts will get more money, it just means there will be more money in the state," he said. "It will be another bait and switch."
Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he wanted to side with the bargaining units as well.
"The major concern of mine are the comments from teachers," he said. "It is a very tough position to be in. We want to respect our bargaining units."
Superintendent James Browder said Lee County would receive between $8 and $12 million if they participated in Race to the Top, which equates to $2 or $3 million each year. He also pointed out that the district would receive a larger portion if other districts decided not to apply.
Browder suggested that the district apply anyway so they would be eligible for the funds, even though he pointed out he didn't want to challenge the teacher and support personnel unions.
"I am torn in this process and I don't want anyone to think I am second thinking the bargaining unit. I just want to give us the opportunity to get the dollars," he said.
He added that the Lee County School District has already implemented a majority of the reforms outlined in Race to the Top.
Other school districts are debating whether to adopt the plan, especially because the Florida Education Association, representing 65 out of 67 school districts, has not recommended that union delegates sign the application.