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Nevis applying for Race to the Top

Nevis School will be among the Minnesota districts in the Race to the Top.

At Monday's special meeting, where teachers' contracts were ratified, the board agreed to join Minnesota school districts applying for federal grants.

The decision was due by Wednesday at the Department of Education.

Minnesota began compiling applications in December, asking individual school districts that want a portion of Minnesota's potentially $200 million allotment to sign a memorandum of agreement that loosely binds districts to implement RTTT reforms by 2012-13.

Nevis' estimated RTTT funding is $152,191, plus additional Minnesota Q Comp funding, totaling $554,060 over a four-year period. The district's expected total incremental funding through RTTT and Q Comp (Quality Compensation for Teachers) is $706,251.

"Theoretically, it makes sense," superintendent Steve Rassier said of applying for the funds. "Government entanglement is the biggest issue."

He said he's heard through negotiation sessions with teachers that they are looking for more staff development opportunities and embrace performance pay.

With Minnesota's budget constraints, "the only place money is going to come from is the feds," he told the board.

Last year, the Obama administration announced $4.35 billion in competitive RTTT grants that would be distributed to fewer than 10 states that embraced such school reform initiatives as merit pay, data-driven curriculum and enhanced accountability measures.

Districts can join now and exit later without penalty. They cannot join later, however.

Rassier shared an overview the Bemidji School District compiled of the pros and cons.

The program will add money to district coffers, but with additional state and federal regulation.

Many of the components are already mandatory. Participating districts would have to adopt an "enhanced" version of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Q Comp program, which Bemidji cites as a negative.

Student assessment results would be reported to schools within 72 hours, but there may be more testing for kids and more frequent evaluations for teachers and principals.

The state teachers union, Education Minnesota, has announced opposition to some parts of the state proposal.

Teachers and principals would receive more training, but the funds would sunset in four years.

Board member Gary Stennes questioned if the tests will be timely and useful. The district already uses tests with immediate feedback.

The board agreed to apply for the funding, and to "work with the teachers union to make sure they are on board."