BROOKSVILLE — It's now in the hands of state lawmakers and then, perhaps, Florida voters.
The Hernando School Board, reluctant to approve a staffing plan for next year that would cut key positions, chose an alternate course Tuesday. Board members remain hopeful that the Legislature will put a less-stringent class size amendment on the ballot — and that voters will approve it.
"We're taking a big chance, but I think it's well worth saving our teacher positions," Chairman Pat Fagan said. "Let's just hope and pray it's put on the ballot and approved."
The staffing plan the board approved unanimously is essentially what is in effect now.
The first plan, in contrast, would have eliminated 46 positions, shifting teachers in those slots to core classes such as reading, math and science to meet the class size guidelines. The reductions included 15 positions that support magnet and theme programs, 12 transitional teachers for K-5, and one elective position at each middle and high school.
The board put off a decision on that plan earlier this month, anticipating that lawmakers would create a way to ease the class-size requirements set to take effect this fall. The Senate has already done so. If both chambers settle on a new amendment, it would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters.
That means the district is taking a gamble. Officials hope that the state will not financially penalize districts like Hernando that will be out of compliance with mandated teacher/student ratios if the voters reject changes, said Heather Martin, executive director of business services.
Even if the ballot measure fails, state officials likely could not justify a hard-line stance on districts, board member John Sweeney reasoned.
"I don't really consider it a high risk," Sweeney said. "If the House and Senate both pass it, I think it would be hard for (the state) to then impose (monetary) sanctions."
But if the district does have to meet the requirements, that would mean shifting to the original staffing plan in mid-year. Some jobs could be lost if teachers with specialized certifications cannot be shifted to core positions, Martin said.
The district still would have to come up with an estimated 32 additional core teaching positions at a cost of $1.9 million.
Board member Dianne Bonfield, while agreeing with her four colleagues, worried that the alternate staffing plan would likely mean more students in double classes.
"That's a major concern to me," Bonfield said. "You can't say those students are going to be getting the same individual attention."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-544-5286.