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    Schools get millions for choice

    While the Hillsborough district will get a federal grant worth up to $13.2-million, Pinellas' application is denied.

    By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 4, 2002


    TAMPA -- The Hillsborough school district learned Thursday that it will receive a federal grant worth up to $13.2-million to begin its voluntary desegregation plan in 2004.

    School officials were jubilant -- and thankful -- since the news across the bay was not so happy.

    Pinellas County's $25-million grant application was denied even though it starts its $200-million desegregation plan next year.

    "I think it's an extremely fortunate thing for us," said Hillsborough superintendent Earl Lennard. "Those dollars will put us over the top."

    The plan, known as "controlled choice," is the district's effort to maintain racial diversity in schools now that Hillsborough is free of court-ordered desegregation.

    The plan, which will cost about $80-million to implement, will use special course offerings to entice white and black children to attend schools outside their neighborhoods. The bulk of the plan will be funded out of general revenue dollars.

    Hillsborough had applied for $25-million over five years, but was told Thursday it will receive $2.64-million this year from the U.S. Department of Education.

    School officials expect the grant to be renewed for each of the next four years, for a total of $13.2-million.

    Hillsborough received one of three grants awarded in Florida and was one of just 13 school districts nationwide to get a share of the $23.8-million to be distributed this year by the federal government.

    The Florida Department of Education received $2.7-million, and Miami-Dade County received $2.6-million.

    Hillsborough officials will use some of the grant money to buy additional buses to help with an expected increase in student transportation. But most of the money will be spent on a marketing effort to explain controlled choice to parents.

    Three parent education centers will be opened and staffed beginning in November. They will be at Jefferson and King high schools and at the Kimbell Full Service School.

    So far, officials say, few parents have inquired about the plan, which is still almost two years from implementation.

    "(But) we've got to ramp it up now," said district spokesman Mark Hart

    No one seemed to know Thursday why Hillsborough received a grant and Pinellas didn't.

    Hillsborough grant officer Barbara Anderson said one reason may have been the significant differences between the two plans.

    In Hillsborough, children will be allowed to stay in their neighborhood school without filling out an application. In Pinellas, students will have to apply if they want to stay in their current school.

    Pinellas' grant director, Charlie Eubanks, said he doesn't know why Pinellas failed to make the cut, but intends to find out. Harry Glenn, a spokesman for Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, said he doesn't know, either.

    "It's a competitive process," Glenn said.

    Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, thinks Hillsborough's grant application stood out from the pack.

    "It's been my experience these grants are based on their merit," Davis said, "though I think they tried to spread the funds out to be fair."

    Lennard said about 40 people worked on Hillsborough's grant application, which was supported by letters from Davis and Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, as well as numerous civic and business leaders.

    -- Times staff writer Kelly Ryan Gilmer contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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