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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Florida school districts not given enough money for classes fined for not having enough classes

Welcome to Florida. -cpg


by Jackie Alexander

The Alachua County public school district faces more than $575,000 in fines for failing to meet the state-mandated class-size cap, according to data released Monday by the state Department of Education.

Assistant Superintendent Sandy Hollinger said in response that the district knew it would be over the cap but now must analyze the state data to know how to proceed.

According to the data, the district exceeds the class-size limit in core classes by more than 165 full-time equivalent students. Full-time equivalency is calculated by a state formula and doesn't always translate into the number of bodies. For instance, the state can calculate class size for elementary schools down to 15-minute intervals, spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said.

The class-size limits are 18 for prekindergarten through third grade, 22 for fourth through eighth grade and 25 for high school.

Although the restrictions began in 2002, districts last year were fined for the first time for missing the cap. Alachua County had nearly 125 full-time equivalent students over the cap during the 2010-11 school year, for a fine of more than $360,000. That fine eventually was reduced to just more than $37,000.

The numbers are determined by attendance counts during the second week of October. Now, Hollinger said, the district must make sense of the numbers.

"All they give us is numbers we have to go through and see if those numbers make any sense with our master schedule," she said.

Part of it was expected, Hollinger said.

"We knew we were going to be over in (grades) 9-12," she said. "What you don't know is how over you're going to be."

The biggest offender was Gainesville High School, with nearly 19 FTE students over the cap. Howard Bishop Middle School also had nearly 18 FTE students over the cap.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Pasco County faces a $4.9 million fine for failing to meet class-size requirements. Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Board of Education last week that his district would not comply fully with class-size reduction, facing a fine of as much as $10 million, to prevent "dramatic collateral damage" on education programs.

Alachua County now will examine the data and determine where the state might have made mistakes in its calculation as part of a lengthy appeal process.

"The problem is that times we don't get the information from the Department of Education on the formula and what they're doing," Hollinger said. "Sometimes the information is just not enough."

Lawmakers, during the last legislative session, relaxed rules on class-size limits, exempting foreign languages and advanced courses from the calculations.

The Alachua County School Board currently is engaged in a lawsuit along with the Florida School Boards Association over the calculation for class size. The lawsuit contends that the state has unfairly created different standards for charter schools than public schools. The state uses a school average to calculate charter schools' class-size compliance, as opposed to the class-level calculation in mainstream public schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Jackie Alexander at 338-3166 or

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