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Class-size scramble is reduced to a question mark in Hillsborough: "We believe we've made it."



TAMPA -- It's all over but the number-crunching. 

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, Hillsborough County school officials said they were pretty darn sure they'd met the deadline to bring every class in the 192,000-student district below the final limits imposed by Florida's class-size amendment. But with a balky computer system and state bureaucrats in charge of the final answer, certainty was in short supply.


“We believe we’ve made it,” superintendent MaryEllen Elia said at a morning news conference. “Our records are showing that we think we have everything in place. But until the state tells us, we don’t know for sure.”


She pointed to a graph that showed steady progress toward eliminating oversized classes, from 2,586 on Sept. 14 to just nine on Thursday. Friday’s entry showed nothing but a question mark, but she said the district had likely reached its goal of total compliance.


She said Hillsborough has spent around $1.5 billion in state money and has hired the equivalent of more than 4,000 teachers since the law’s 2002 passage. Some of those teachers are now co-teaching double sized groups because that’s the only way to comply.


“We used every bit of classroom space that we had,” Elia said.


Behind the scenes, administrators set up a command center to centralize schedule changes across the 192,000-student district and minimize computer errors. On Friday at 6:00 a.m. they discovered four unexpected class sections over the limit, based on the previous day’s report. Those problems were quickly resolved.


But then came a report of three brand-new students hoping to enroll at Strawberry Crest High School in Dover – three new ways for the district to fall short of its goal and the chance of up to $35 million in state reward money. Officials said they hoped to avert any last-minute mistakes.


“The assistant principal was (at the command center) earlier today getting them in the system,” said deputy superintendent Ken Otero. “All their classes have been fixed to the best of our knowledge.”


[Last modified: Saturday, October 16, 2010 9:34am]


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