Latest News

School officials await word on class size fines

BRADENTON -- In 12 days, Manatee County School officials will learn if they have to pay a maximum of $1.11 million in fines for not meeting class size reductions in elementary, middle and high schools.

The original projection of $700,000 by the county was changed when the state Department of Education notified the district in December that the fine totaled $1.11 million.

The state’s board of education will meet Jan. 18 to review appeals from all school districts -- including Manatee County’s -- that did not meet class size requirements. Thirty-nine school districts failed to comply with the law which limits the number of students per class, creating financial penalties of more than $40 million.

Local school officials find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being one of six counties to be penalized to the tune of more than $1 million. Only Palm Beach, Duval, Miami-Dade, Collier and Broward counties schools also surpassed that million dollar penalty marker. Palm Beach County school district received the largest fine -- $16.6 million.

However, local school officials could get a reprieve. School officials submitted an appeal explaining why the class size restriction was not met, Manatee County Schools Associate Superintendent Jim Drake said.

“We have taken the appropriate action to get our penalty reduced,” he said.

If the state board approves the district’s plan -- which Drake said is about “3- to 4-inches thick” -- school officials say they will only have to pay about 25 percent of the penalty -- around $279,000.

Manatee County Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal said he’s heard that the plan “was looking good” for approval.

The plan shows that enrollment in Manatee County schools jumped by 1,110 students this year after two years of stagnant growth. Officials projected an increase in enrollment and hired 65 teachers before the current school year began at a cost of $4 million to specifically meet class size requirements. Another 20 were hired for expected growth but it wasn’t enough.

McGonegal and Drake said they are continuing to look at staff allocations for the 2011-2012 school year. Already creative solutions have been suggested by school officials, McGonegal said. Using more than one teacher in a classroom, known as co-teaching, and mixed grade-level classrooms have been suggested.

Classroom caps are set across the state as a result of the 2002 voter-approved plan to reduce teacher-student ratios and improve student achievement. The law mandates no more than 18 students in pre-kindergarten-third grades, 22 students in fourth through eighth grades and 25 in high school.

In November, Florida voters rejected Amendment 8, which would have relaxed class-size limits.

School districts have filed a lawsuit through the Florida School Boards Association. In the lawsuit, school officials have challenged the penalties. Manatee County officials, however, did not add their name to the complaint.