Local News

District approves class size compliance plan

SEBRING - After exceeding the state's class size maximums for the first time, the School Board of Highlands County approved the district's plan to bring 10 of its 17 schools into compliance with the Constitutional class size requirements.
The Class Size Reduction Compliance Plan calls for hiring additional teachers or certified classroom assistants at eight elementary schools and two high schools.
District data shows that Lake Placid Elementary and Cracker Trail Elementary had 12 and nine classrooms, respectively, that exceeded the class limits.
Sebring High School and Lake Placid High School had 12 and three class periods, respectively that exceeded the class limits.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said the school district had unusual circumstances this year.
The district hired 34 teachers to bring back the teacher planning time at the secondary schools and there was an unusually high number of teachers who retired last year, he said. So overall the district had to fill about 125 teaching positions.
"Normally we would use classroom teaching assistants to meet the class size," Averyt said. "That's what we've done in the past, but this is the first year we haven't been able to meet the class size. We couldn't find any certified teachers."
But, the classrooms over the class limits received assistance with a paraprofessional or substitute teacher, but they don't meet the class size teacher requirements, he said.
The district was required to submit a plan to the Florida Department of Education outlining how it will comply with the class limits in the 2014-15 school year.
The district faces a fine for non-compliance, but Averyt said the district believes there was justification for going over the class limits and is appealing the penalty to the state.
"Until we know the results of the appeal, we don't know how much the penalty will be," he said.
The other School Board of Highlands County elementary schools that had at least one classroom over the class limit are: Avon Elementary, Fred Wild Elementary, Lake Country Elementary, Park Elementary, Sun 'N Lake Elementary and Woodlawn Elementary.
In 2002, citizens approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution that set limits on the number of students in core classes (math, English, science, etc.) in the state's public schools. The maximum class sizes are 18 students in kindergarten through third-grade, 22 students in fourth-grade through eighth-grade and 25 students in ninth-grade through 12th-grade.
The 2011 Legislature amended the class size requirement providing class size flexibility to schools that enroll students after the October student membership survey. If a district school board determines that it is impractical, educationally unsound or disruptive to student learning, students may be temporarily assigned to a class that exceeds the maximums. Up to three additional students may be assigned to a teacher in kindergarten through third-grade and up to five additional students may be assigned to a teacher in fourth-grade through 12th-grade.