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Campaign to back class size is urged

TAMPA — Should the Florida Board of Education campaign to get voters to approve the latest class-size amendment?

Board member Roberto Martinez of Coral Gables thinks so and on Tuesday urged education officials to take an active role, dispensing information about the real-life ramifications of not changing current law.

"This thing is doomed to fail," Martinez said, suggesting that the department undertake a "Herculean strategy" backing the amendment. "It needs to be a campaign strategy in order to convince 60 percent of people that it is worth passing."

The proposal asks voters to stop the class size amendment at the school average, rather than going to classroom counts as current law requires. It would also set caps on each class that are higher than the current level of 18 up to third grade, 22 in Grades 4-8 and 25 in high school.

Sixty percent of voters would need to approve the amendment for it to pass. A recent poll showed just 44 percent favor the changes.

Critics of the current law, also passed by referendum, say implementing its final requirements would come at the expense of other educational programs.

It is within the board's rights to disseminate factual information, board attorney Deborah Kearney said. "It's a delicate balance," she said "Certainly, its important for this board to provide information. … It's another thing to start spending a lot of money to start politicking."

Also during the meeting:

• Two Hillsborough County charter schools failed to convince the board that their programs were worth saving.

Members voted 6-0 to uphold the Hillsborough County School District's decisions to deny a charter for Padah Academy and to terminate Taylor Peace Academy's charter.

The district approved Taylor Peace in 2007. But the school never opened due to meager enrollment. It spent a $25,000 grant and $122,000 in state money on rent, salaries and advertising before being evicted from its facility, Hillsborough school district attorney Tom Gonzalez said.

Nathan Taylor, the school's principal, called the accusations "a bunch of falsehoods."

Padah's charter was never approved because the district was concerned that the school didn't budget properly for salaries, computer-based instruction for 100 students, transportation and meals, Gonzalez said.

• The board tabled discussion of a proposal that could eliminate flavored milk from school plans, pending the release of new federal nutritional guidelines.

The proposal aims to cut sugary beverages from school lunches, but milk industry representatives and school nutrition services directors from across the state argued that cutting flavored milk would mean fewer children would drink milk, eliminating key nutrients from their diets.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Campaign to back class size is urged 05/19/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:38am]
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