School Board Lobbys For Amendment 8, Against Strict Class Size Law
August 27, 2010
Public schools throughout Florida started the first day of school Monday under a law that will only permit so many students in an individual classroom, while the Escambia County School Board held a special workshop at Northview High School to push for a change.
Lawmakers and school administrators are pushing a proposed constitutional amendment that would relax the class size requirement put into the constitution by voters in 2002. As of Monday, individual classes were capped at 18 students for kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 in high school, with the limits having been phased in since the amendment was passed.
The proposed amendment on the November ballot would allow class sizes to be calculated in a more lenient fashion. If passed, the class size would be calculated at a grade-level average, not an individual classroom cap, allowing some classes to go above the limit.
“Please, please help us by getting the word out that Amendment 8 is a yes; please help us help the students,” District 5 School Board Member Bill Slayton (pictured right) said Thursday during the board workshop at Northview High.
The school district is facing several financial “pressure points”, according to Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, for the upcoming the 2011-2012 school year. Coupled with declining property values made worse by the oil spill’s impact on coastal property and the class size amendment, the district will no longer receive federal stimulus dollars — which currently funds $13 million in teachers’ salaries.
“The last pressure point is class size,” Thomas said. The district has added 489 teachers and spent about $26.4 million for their salaries despite 3,200 fewer students since the class size regulations went into effect in 2003-2004. For the current school year, Escambia County added 49 teachers, spent $2.9 million and put another $1 million in reserve to ensure class size compliance.
The change has been felt by students in other ways — smaller classes have been eliminated with students taking courses online, part-time teachers have hired, multi-level classes have been combined into one, some teachers are paid to work through their planning periods and class choices have been reduced.
“We are not going against the will of the people of Northwest Florida,” Slayton said, adding that local voters were against the original amendment that he described as a way for south Florida schools to reduced class size at the expense of the state.
“I don’t like it, but it is the law,” said Board Member Jeff Bergosh. “We’ve got to hope the voters will pass the amendment.”
Board Member Linda Moutrie agreed, saying that people should get out and vote “yes” on Amendment 8. “That’s what you can do for your community,” she said.
Administrators across the state say the hard caps are too cumbersome and allow for no flexibility. They say they fear schools will either be in violation of the law or face financial consequences if all of their classrooms are at maximum capacity and a new student moves into the district. They also say that with the economic downturn, schools just can’t afford to implement the class size requirement as originally envisioned.
The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit to toss the proposal from the November ballot, arguing that it is misleading. Arguments in circuit court are slated for September 8. If the court rules in favor of the FEA, it is likely that the state could appeal immediately to the Florida Supreme Court for final judgment. Until then, the group is mounting a public campaign against the amendment.
Pictured top: Escambia School Board members (L-R) Gerald Boone, Patty Hightower and Linda Moultrie and School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas listen to an audience member Thursday evening during a board workshop at Northview High School. Pictured top inset: Board Member Jeff Bergosh, left, listens as Bill Slayton asks for support for Amendment 8. Pictured bottom inset: Century resident Lina Showalter addresses the board. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.