MANATEE -- More than 1,300 parents are asking the school district to reconsider eliminating 182 teaching positions in Manatee County, saying layoffs "are not an acceptable solution to the financial crisis affecting Manatee County schools."
Manatee County parent Karen Riley-Love plans to present the petition, which garnered 1,304 signatures in one week, to Superintendent of Schools Rick Mills at noon Wednesday at his "Soup with the Supe" event at Renaissance on 9th, 1816 Ninth St. W.
The petition states: "We were told by Superintendent Mills that our class sizes are too small, but, in fact, only Broward, Dade, Duval and Marion counties have more PK-3rd grade classes in violation of the Class Size law. Only 6 counties in the state have higher high school class size averages. Only 5 counties suffered larger fines from the state ("class size funding reductions" Feb. 15, 2013) for class size violations than Manatee County this year. The data reported by Manatee County to the Florida Department of Education proves that we have the highest class size averages in Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida."
Riley-Love, a former middle school English teacher at IMG Academy, did extensive research for the petition and said she does not believe district projections student enrollment will decrease in the fall.
She said she believes enrollment is likely to increase based on past trends.
Florida Department of Education data ranks Manatee County as among the highest for class-size averages in the state. The average class size for grades four through eight last semester was 18.4 and the average class size for grades nine through 12 was 20.45.
State statutes cap the maximum class size in grades four through eight at 22 students. High-school classes may not exceed 25 students.
Riley-Love said she hopes the information and petition will spark a conversation with the superintendent.
"I understand there is no easy solution, but I want an open dialogue about cutting costs other than cutting teachers," Riley-Love said. "I think that cutting jobs will have a negative economic impact on Manatee County as a whole."
Mills said the community should study his financial recovery plan and wait for transition team recommendations to be released Monday.
"I understand their concern," Mills said. "But we have done a thorough analysis, and positions are overstaffed."
Mills said cutting positions in schools and district offices was necessary to save $11.3 million.
"It's the best decision," Mills said.
Petition signatures represent parents of children in the Manatee County public school system. Riley-Love said teachers have expressed support, but no petition signatures came from teachers.
Riley-Love said she was inspired to start the petition after her child's fourth-grade teacher at Anna Maria Elementary was laid off. She said massive teacher layoffs are a mistake if school enrollment does not significantly decrease as projected.
Riley-Love will not be going alone to Soup with the Supe. She e-mailed Anna Maria Elementary parents and expects to be joined by at least 15, adding it is difficult for some to attend an event in the middle of the day.
Riley-Love said she will also present the petition at the school board meeting June 10 and hopes to have more signatures by then.
She hopes Rowlett Elementary parents, who petitioned at the last school board workshop, will join her push.
"I am just a mom who wants what's best for her children," Riley-Love said.
Mills said he intends to engage the community but does not want to veer from his financial recovery plan.
"I hope they are satisfied with my responses," Mills said. "We will get this district financially sound."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.