Manatee School District's initial class-size report shows 11 groups are not in compliance

BRADENTON -- An influx of students and a backlog in hiring is keeping the Manatee County School District from being completely in compliance with state statutes when it comes to class sizes, with 11 groupings out of compliance after the district's first analysis.

"This is our first official run," said Diana Greene, the deputy superintendent of instruction. "We then go and investigate."

The student count for the state was done between Oct. 13 and 17. The data collected during that time ties directly in the class-size requirement from the Florida Department of Education. Districts were required to submit the finalized data to the state on Oct. 31 and can make edits or corrections until Nov. 14, said Cheryl Etters of the Department of Education.

The state sets the maximum number of students allowed in core classes per grade level, according to a constitutional amendment from 2002. For core classes from pre-kindergarten to third grade, there can be no more than 18 students in each class. In grades four through eight, there can be no more than 22 students in a core class; for grades five through 12, the limit is set at 25 students per core class.

The data taken on student count is a "snapshot," Greene said.

Groupings are done based on the class sizes at each school and are averaged, based on the state groupings, Greene said. Some individual classrooms may be over the limit,

but the average comes into compliance with the state because other classes come in under the limit.

The core classes include reading, English language arts, social studies, science and mathematics. Certain classes are exempted, Greene said.

Class sizes are analyzed and calculated by the state in early to mid-December. Districts that do not meet the class size requirements lose class-size allocation funding from the state. A district that meets every class-size requirement can receive a bonus. Last year, one of Manatee's contract sites was out of compliance, which cost the district the bonus. The district helps charter schools and contract sites remain in compliance.

According to the state, Manatee County is set to receive $52 million for complying with the class-size reduction standards during the current 2014-15 year. The calculation will change as numbers are updated.

As of the initial run, 11 groupings were considered out of state compliance. The district will look to see if those are because of errors in coding, which can be amended and fixed, or if the actual classes have too many students.

Five of those out of compliance are in the pre-kindergarten through grade three level; six are in the fourth through eighth grades. Two of the 11 out of compliance areas are from charter schools, with Manatee Charter School listing an average of 19.25 students in each kindergarten-through-grade-three classroom, and Palmetto Charter School listing an average of 23.52 students in the grades-four-through-eight level.

Traditional schools that have out-of-compliance areas include Manatee Elementary, Moody Elementary, Bashaw Elementary, McNeal Elementary, Williams Elementary, Gullett Elementary, Rogers Garden Elementary and Buffalo Creek Middle School.

Most schools are just slightly above average. For example, McNeal is averaging 22.92 students in the grades-four-through-eight category and the limit is 22.

Steps to take

Districts that do not comply must submit a class-size compliance plan that describes what steps district officials will take to be in compliance with the requirements the following year.

The state has an appeals process, and districts can use the process to seek a reduced penalty. Districts must prove through the appeals process that class-size requirements were not met despite efforts to do so, or because of an extreme emergency. Even districts that appeal the allocation reduction still must submit a class-size compliance plan.

District officials are still looking at the numbers, but Greene referred to at least one case where the district plans to use the appeals process and expects to win.

At Manatee Elementary, the student count shows the school is averaging 18.39 students per class from pre-kindergarten to third grade. The limit is 18.

The school has been trying to hire another first-grade teacher, which is what brought the grouping out of compliance, but wasn't able to do so during the period when the district collected the data, Greene said. She noted that the job was recently filled. If the data was checked again, the grouping would be found in compliance, but the district cannot go back and change the figures.

"I'm fairly confident we'll win that appeal," she said.

One example where the district might take a hit is at Buffalo Creek. The school is out of compliance in the 9th-12th grade level, which caps classes at 25 students. The district's middle schools offer high-school-level courses, and those classes must comply with the high-school-level class count.

At Buffalo Creek, there's an average of 25.85 students in those advanced classes, but there aren't really enough students to fully justify adding another unit, Greene said.

"That's unlikely to change," Greene said.

School principals with class sizes out of compliance could not be reached Friday.

A lack of teachers has a direct effect on the class-size count.

As of Friday, the district's online system still showed a number of instructional openings in the district, including four high-school math teacher openings, one middle-school math teacher, two high-school reading teachers, one middle-school reading teacher, one fifth-grade teacher, one fourth-grade teacher and one third-grade teacher, among other openings.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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