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CLASS-SIZE PENALTIES AT $7.7M

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's school districts still are facing $7.7 million in penalties for violating current class size limits although lawmakers loosened them for the future.

But that change could head off a potential lawsuit because most if not all districts are expected to be able to comply with the new standards, said Florida School Boards Association executive director Wayne Blanton. "I don't know if there will be a lawsuit or not," he said Thursday.

The association and several individual boards had been planning to challenge the penalties on grounds the Florida Constitution's class-size amendment makes the Legislature, not school districts, responsible for funding compliance.

A bill awaiting action by Gov. Rick Scott would revise the limits, but it also approves the penalties calculated by Education Commissioner Eric Smith after most districts appealed.

The penalties originally were calculated at $43 million with 35 of Florida's 67 school districts out of compliance, but Smith whittled them down through an appeal process. It may not be worth challenging the penalties if they are unlikely to be levied in the future, Blanton said.

The association's board of directors will take another look at the situation when it meets next month, Blanton said.

More than half of the penalty total - about $4 million - was chalked up by the Palm Beach County School District, which did not appeal.

The constitution limits each core curriculum class to no more than 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade and 25 in high school.

The new legislation would still require compliance with those limits when a head count is taken each October. If new students enroll after the count, though, up to three more could be added in kindergarten through third grade and five more in the other grades.

Also, the number of classes covered by the limits would be reduced from 849 to 304.

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