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Teachers sue to keep amendment off ballot


Published:   |   Updated: May 2, 2013 at 03:37 PM
SEBRING -

School superintendents and school boards want flexibility from the full implementation of the Class-Size Amendment's requirements while the state teachers union believes districts should meet the strict class-by-class size limits.

Also, voters will have a say in the matter with a "right sizing class size" amendment, but the teachers union is suing to keep the amendment off the Nov. 2 ballot.

After voters approved the Class-Size Amendment in 2002, school districts have been required to meet class size limits first district wide and then school wide.

But starting this school year every classroom cannot exceed the class size limits of 18 students per teacher in grades pre-K through third grade, 22 students per teacher in grades four through eight and 25 students in grades nine through 12.

School Board of Highlands County Chairman Wally Randall believes the toughest part of full implementation will be at the elementary school level.

At the middle and high schools you have classrooms that are vacant part of the day and you can try to schedule an additional class, he said.

But in elementary school where students are in one classroom the entire day, that is where you have the potential for the worst-case scenario, Randall said.

If all the first-grade classes at a school have 18 students and then one more first-grader enrolls, now the district is forced by law to send the child to another school or find a new classroom, hire a new teacher and move students from the other classes into the new classroom, he said.

The learning process includes the teacher, the students' efforts and parental support, Randall noted. Just because you have a low number of students in a classroom doesn't automatically guarantee that more learning is going to take place.

The state teachers union - Florida Education Association (FEA) - is suing to stop the Florida Legislature from placing a "class-size" constitutional amendment referendum on the November ballot. The amendment calls for easing the class size requirements.

FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow said, if the objective of the referendum is to provide flexibility for school districts so that they don't have to worry about the "19th-student argument" that could be done legislatively. That doesn't need to have a constitutional amendment.

The real reason this is being done is because political leaders have decided they don't want to follow the voters' orders and invest in public schools, he said. This is strictly an idea to save money.

This year the Department of Education said it needed around $365 million to comply with the class-size requirements, but the Legislature didn't provide that funding, Pudlow said. That set up the current scenario where schools have to take measures to comply.

In 2002 voters understood reducing class sizes would be costly, but they wanted to have an investment in kids and teachers to have more control in the classroom, he said.

"I haven't heard a teacher or a parent say 'you know I think we need more kids in the classroom'" Pudlow said.

The proposed amendment to the constitution maintains the existing class-size caps, but at the school level with individual class-size limits as follows: 21 students in pre-K through third grade, 27 students in grades four through eight and 30 students in grades nine through 12.

To pass the amendment would need approval by 60 percent of voters. The 2002 amendment passed with 52 percent of the vote.


Highlands Today reporter Marc Valero can be reached at 863-386-5826 or mvalero@highlandstoday.com

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