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Pasco schools could see caps, lotteries as class-size rules get tighter

LAND O'LAKES — For many Pasco residents, the class-size amendment has been an abstract concept tucked away in the Florida Constitution.

Now it's about to hit home.

Pasco schools officials expect disruptions and disappointment for some students this fall as the district complies with the hard caps on the number of students in each core curriculum class.

School choice is already being curtailed. Officials also expect lotteries for certain classes for older students if too many sign up.

Elementary students may be moved from one classroom to another if the head count is too high after the first few weeks of school.

And administrators may be unable to honor parents' requests for certain teachers.

"In the past we tried to do right for children," superintendent Heather Fiorentino told board members at a workshop Tuesday.

But "between budget cuts and class size, the quality of education will be impacted this year. There's no way to say it won't be," she said.

School Board members are mulling over how to best tell parents about the effects, caused by a combination of shrinking revenue and stricter class-size accounting rules that could kick in this year if at least 60 percent of the state's voters don't agree to relax them.

Meeting the final phase of the 2002 amendment is projected to cost Pasco schools about $11 million beyond what the state is providing. The district faces penalties of about $11 million if it doesn't meet the requirements by October, but those rules could change in November. The district also faces a $28 million budget hole overall.

The Florida Constitution limits class sizes to 18 students in grades pre-kindergarten through third, 22 students in fourth through eighth and 25 students in high school.

Superintendents have been allowed to meet those caps first by district and now by school averages, but the state Constitution requires a shift toward hard classroom counts starting this fall.

The proposed amendment would forgo hard caps in favor of maintaining school averages and would increase the maximum class-size limit by three students in pre-kindergarten through third, and by five in other grades.

School Board members discussed the issue at a workshop after their regular meeting Tuesday, attended by all members except Cathi Martin, who Chairman Allen Altman said had been involved in an accident that morning.

As they discussed the impacts of the class-size amendment, board members had plenty of questions.

What do you do if there are 25 spots for an Advanced Placement class and 30 students who want to take the class, board members asked? Do you cut that number off or tell five they have to go to virtual schools?

"What if you have 30 in one school and less in another school?" asked board member Kathryn Starkey. "If we use technology, what can we do with the numbers?"

Staff members said the answer isn't easy.

Scheduling would have to be synchronized so AP classes needed at more than one school would take place at the same time to allow some to attend class via computer.

Also, a staffer might have to be hired anyway to supervise the students.

"You can't stick three kids in a classroom with computers and say you're on your own," Fiorentino said. "You don't want to be sued."

Also off-limits is the media center, which the law does not consider a classroom, finance director Olga Swinson said.

The challenges prompted Starkey to offer a suggestion.

"Why can't we send a letter to Tallahassee to suggest this is a special fiscal emergency and ask that they do something special to suspend this for another year?"

At the very least, she said, the district should notify parents early about possible fallout.

"We need a fact sheet to let people know in advance this is coming. We don't want to spring this on parents the second week in the school year."

Pasco schools could see caps, lotteries as class-size rules get tighter 07/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 8:42pm]
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