LARGO — Pinellas County School Board members voted 5-2 Tuesday to join a lawsuit to stop the state from penalizing school districts that don't comply with class size laws in the coming school year.
Though the district plans to comply with the law this fall by absorbing $14.4 million in costs related to meeting class caps, board members said the action sends a signal to legislators that they aren't holding up their end of the deal by providing adequate funding to fulfill the law.
"I think right is right, and I think the Legislature needs to understand that they need to honor what the people actually voted on," board member Carol Cook said.
The board agreed to pay Tallahassee law firm Meyer, Brooks, Demma and Blohm, PA, a $1,500 retainer to be a part of the suit. Pinellas board attorney Jim Robinson told board members they could pull out at any time.
Beginning with the first day of school, districts will be required to meet class caps of 18 in prekindergarten through third grade, 23 in grades four through eight and 25 in high school.
Financial penalties that could total millions of dollars would go from school districts not in compliance to ones in compliance.
In Pinellas, students attending schools where classes have reached their limit could be reassigned to schools where there is room. Or the enrollment of a new student could force a school to suddenly create a new class.
Until now, districts have had the flexibility to comply with the law by meeting schoolwide and district averages.
And though voters are expected to go to the polls Nov. 2 to decide whether to repeal the 2002 class size amendment, Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen said the district is planning as if nothing will change. Other districts that have agreed to sue are Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, Robinson told the board.
Board members Robin Wikle and Mary Brown voted no because they have concerns about the financial prudence of the move and other unanswered questions.
In other action, the board held its first public hearing on the district's 2010-11 budget and voted unanimously to adopt the tentative $1.35 billion budget pending its second public hearing on Sept. 14. The board also voted unanimously to set the property tax rate at $8.34 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, down from $8.35 last year. That means, the owner of a home with a taxable value of $175,000 would pay $1,459.50, or $1.05 less than a home with the same taxable value last year.