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    Governor cuts grant for reading program

    The denial of state funding to start a middle school program will not hinder construction of the new $22-million Largo library.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 6, 2002


    LARGO -- One day after city officials said, finally, it was time to put serious cash behind a new library, Gov. Jeb Bush said they'd have to look elsewhere for help starting a reading center for middle school students.

    The governor's veto Wednesday of a $500,000 grant legislators had included in the coming year's budget will not affect construction or financing of the new $22-million building city commissioners signed off on Tuesday night.

    Library director Barbara Murphey said the money would have come in handy because the city has identified strengthening reading among middle school students as a signature mission of the library.

    "Elementary has pretty good support. The middle school is where you lose them as readers," she said.

    Largo had hoped to partner with Pinellas County schools in opening its Reading Center for Excellence when the library opens, around the end of 2004. Murphey said the school district would have had discretion disbursing the money, but there had been talk of using it to hire reading specialists, teachers and a coordinator to help middle school students strengthen reading skills.

    "We put this (grant proposal) in as an opportunity," said Murphey. "This is not a cut of a program we have currently. This was an opportunity to increase our level of service in an area we feel very comfortable in."

    The city has been planning the library for several years, and this week approved building and design contracts worth more than $400,000.

    Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert said losing the grant does not affect the overall financing of the 93,000-square-foot library.

    "When we were pursuing funding for the state beyond the normal construction grant," said Schubert, "the theme that we were using was reading excellence.

    "The primary mission of a library is reading and literacy, and we tried to put more structure to that mission in the library," he said.

    He acknowledged that "the governor has a history of scrutinizing these types of appropriations very carefully. It's disappointing but not surprising."

    Schubert and Murphey said the city will pursue other avenues for financing the reading center.

    Clearwater also lost money Wednesday to the governor's pen. It won't get $300,000 requested to assist with an $11.1-million project to improve the road and drainage along Myrtle Avenue.

    City Clerk Cyndie Goudeau said the city had hoped to use the state money for design, engineering and permit costs. Ultimately, the road will be transferred to the state's jurisdiction, swapping the designation currently assigned to Fort Harrison Avenue.

    Goudeau said the cut barely affects the major improvement.

    "We were just hoping to get some assistance," she said.

    -- Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4174 or by e-mail at sandler@sptimes.com.

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