By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

For Rome schools, the potential loss of federal Race to the Top money due to federal and state disputes would be disappointing, but not a major blow nor necessarily even a surprise, says Board of Education President Patricia Riedel.

Regarding Rome’s allotment that is to be about $530,000 divided over four years, Riedel said today "it’s not an awful lot of money to make a difference...in the long haul." The Rome district’s current 2011-12 budget is $98.7 million, and Riedel said Race to the Top money in relation to the upcoming 2012-13 budget "hasn’t been discussed" yet.

Riedel added, "Would we love the money? Yes." But she also said, "if they take it away....it’s what they do all the time....They say ‘apply for this’....then say ‘we’re not going to give it to you’....It’s happened before."

The Rome district’s plans for using Race to the Top funding involve a focus on teacher quality and on-site professional development programs, according to district goals submitted to the state in late 2010; among the steps were data analysis teams in conjunction with BOCES, plus teachers serving as mentors and coaches to other teachers.

Rome was slated for the second largest share of Oneida County’s total estimated allotment of over $3.4 million. Utica has been estimated for over $2.1 million over a 4-year period, with over $800,000 divided among 14 other schools, according to state projections issued in 2010.

While federal concerns that put the money at risk are linked to New York’s lack of overall agreement on new evaluation systems for teachers and principals, Riedel said the Rome district "did all that we could do" at this point regarding local plans. The school board last August approved general terms of a new plan, pending union negotiations of further details in upcoming contracts; current contracts expire June 30, 2013. That timetable should not change, Riedel said.

Riedel expressed frustration at ongoing revisions in federal and state education standards, and the impact on local instruction.

"We can’t keep changing things midstream," said Riedel. For example, she referred to changes in "how we teach reading and math," followed by "then more goals." Goals and standards "keep changing every year or two" as new federal and state officials impose "their ideas," she remarked. She added, "if they would just give us a timeframe and let the teachers teach...I really think we would have good success."