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Class size requirements fall heavily on district

School Board members want small classes. But some say the class size amendment, which survived the legislative session, is too expensive.

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published May 7, 2006


Ginger Bryant wants smaller class sizes, but she also wants more dollars from the state to build classrooms for new teachers and their students.

The School Board member doesn't think Florida voters fully considered the costs to school districts when they passed a 2002 amendment that places strict limits on the number of students in a classroom.

She hoped the Legislature would again put the issue on the November ballot.

Last week, though, state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, helped defeat a proposal asking voters to give districts more flexibility in enforcing the rigid class size caps. She also refused to ask voters to rescind a recent court decision that struck down some private school vouchers.

Bryant applauded Argenziano's vote against vouchers but was disappointed with her vote on the proposed class size overhaul.

"I would have wanted her to vote to put that measure on the ballot," she said.

Argenziano could not be reached for this story. But in recent interviews, she has defended her votes, saying most voters supported the class size amendment. She also said taxpayer dollars should support public schools.

The class size amendment requires districts to shrink class sizes through the 2010-11 school year. By then, schools must have no more than 18 students per class in prekindergarten through third grade. The caps are 22 students in fourth through eighth grades, and 25 in high school.

Board member Pat Deutschman agrees with Bryant that districts need more money to meet those requirements. She said the burden has unfairly fallen on districts to find the money to pay for new teachers.

Citrus must hire 150 teachers before the next school year. Of those, at least 40 are needed to have smaller class sizes.

"We're okay in our district because we're not growing as fast," Deutschman said. "But it's getting harder and harder to find new teachers - not only ones who are qualified, but anybody."

With more money and more time, Deutschman thinks the district would have no trouble lowering class sizes.

But the most recent proposal would have kept class sizes only to a district average. Deutschman thinks that was a blatant attempt to undermine the will of voters.

"I believe the message from Florida voters was very clear: Support public education adequately," she said.

She hopes that was the same message Argenziano sent the governor when she joined Democrats and five other Republicans in rejecting his latest and, likely, his last attempt to undo the class size amendment. She also praised Argenziano for voting against private school vouchers.

"Nancy has always stood up and defended public education," Deutschman said. "I say, "Good for you, Nancy."'

School Board Chairman Lou Miele said the vote was "a bold move" by Argenziano.

But like his fellow board members, Miele worries the state is not giving districts enough construction dollars to reduce class sizes. He knows the district must hire 40 new teachers next year.

"My question now is, where are we going to put them?" he said.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at 860-7305 or eramirez@sptimes.com