Local News

District exceeds state class limits

SEBRING - For the first time since the implementation of the Class Size Amendment in 2003, the School Board of Highlands County exceeded the state's maximum class size requirement.

Superintendent Wally Cox said, "for the first time ever we didn't comply fully."

Cox said he informed the school board in August or September that the district would not be able to comply with the class size requirements.

He explained that the district hired 120 teachers for the 2013-14 school year to bring back the middle and high school teacher planning period.

Then the district couldn't find enough certified teachers to become certified teaching assistants, Cox said.

As enrollment increases after the start of the school year and class sizes become a concern, Cox reviews school enrollments to decide whether to add a certified teaching assistant to a classroom that exceeds the class size limits or open another classroom and add a teacher.

"We did provide teaching assistants, but we provided them with some teachers who didn't have the credentials," Cox said. The district fell short by about 10 to 15 certified teachers.

"Last year I hired 15 and this year I was only able to hire three," he said.

Based on that, the state said the district was out of compliance with the class size requirements, Cox said.

The school district is appealing the class-size penalty and will submit a plan to meet the requirements by the Feb. 1 deadline, which could reduce the penalty by 75 percent, he said.

The penalty is actually less than the cost of complying with the class size requirements, Cox said, but he is a constitutional officer and has always tried his best to comply with the state law.

There are some school districts that pay the penalty every year because it is cheaper than meeting the requirements, he said.

Cox said he does not know the amount of the penalty the district is facing, but will know more when he gets the results of the district's appeal.

The district's enrollment is up about 80 students compared to last year, he noted.

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.