About 8% of Alachua County classes bust class-size limits

The district is facing a fine of more than $350,000 over the issue.


Buchholz High School students head to class on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 23. Buchholz had about 20 students more than the state-mandated cap of 25 students per class in an Oct. 25 count, the second-largest offender in Alachua County.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 10:55 p.m.

Nearly 8 percent of Alachua County public school classes are above the voter-approved class-size limits, the state Department of Education reported Wednesday.

That determination has the district facing a fine of more than $350,000 and gearing up for a fight.

District officials said they were anticipating the finding, which is based on the Oct. 15 class counts sent to the state. The district has about 131 full-time equivalent students over the caps. Those students are spread over 758 classes that exceed the limits, according to state data.

For example, the 19th student in a second-grade class through the course of a day would count against the district for each core curriculum course taught by the teacher, including math and reading.

Of the 35 Florida school districts out of compliance, Palm Beach County topped the list with more than 21,200 classes over the cap. Alachua County's percentage of classes above the limit was higher than the state percentage of nearly 5.8.

Gainesville High School has the highest number of full-time equivalent students over the cap at 30.77, while Buchholz High School had about 20.

In 2002, voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment requiring class limits, including a cap of 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade and 25 in high school classes.

Districts were required to gradually shrink classrooms with a final compliance deadline of 2010.

"We've been working with the principals for the last few years, knowing this was coming," said Sandy Hollinger, deputy superintendent for instruction and student services. "The most challenging part for us is at the honors and AP level."

Complying with the caps would mean denying some students the chance to participate in rigorous courses, Hollinger said.

"You're just not going to penalize students for class size," she said.

School districts have until Dec. 17 to appeal the state's findings, and any fines would not be assessed until February.

Superintendent Dan Boyd said that while the districts had years to come into compliance, the Florida Legislature also had years to ease the restrictions.

"We felt like the state Legislature could have given us the same equation as charter schools," he said. "They didn't, and that's offensive."

At issue is the formula used to determine if charter schools are in compliance. Unlike public schools, for which sizes are determined by classes, charter schools' numbers are based on school averages, Boyd said.

The Alachua County school district has entered with more than a dozen other Florida districts in pending litigation spearheaded by the Florida School Boards Association. The association has two possible suits coming: one targeting the charter school exemption and another targeting the fines.

Voters rejected a constitutional amendment in the Nov. 2 election that would have loosened the limits to the school-wide average.

"We've been asking the legislators for years in advance to introduce legislation for the state Department of Education that could give some flexibility," Boyd said.

Each year, he said, they've fallen short.

Legislators budgeted $85 million to help districts come in compliance, though the state Department of Education 2010-11 budget request noted that more than $353 million would be required for the full implementation of the class-size caps.

Contact Jackie Alexander at 338-3166.

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