In Florida District, Paying Class Size Fine Cheaper Than Hiring Teachers

In a move to save money, Brevard Public Schools in Florida chose to break the state's class size law, amended in 2002, because the punishment was a better option than not committing the offense. The fine imposed for breaking that law is lower than the cost of hiring teachers.

Brevard Public Schools allowed about 30 of its 82 schools to have more students in a class than allowed by state law.

"Yes, we didn't meet it like we have in the past," said Cyndi Van Meter, Brevard's associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "But it didn't harm children. The approach we took this year was much less painful to the children and the teachers in the school."

According to Mackenzie Ryan of Florida Today, an amendment to the state constitution mandating the limits was approved by Florida voters in 2002. The law caps the number of students in core classes such as English to 18 students in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 students in grades four to eight and 25 students in grades nine to 12. However, the definition of a core class has changed over the years. It no longer includes foreign language classes.

"It's tough to do 25," Viera High teacher Paul Hackmann said of his geometry courses, which are capped thanks to the law. "I couldn't imagine 35."

An unintended consequence of the law, however, has been the impact on elective classes that are not governed by it.

"We all understand the intent of the law," Viera principal Jim Hickey said. "There are winners and losers."

Middle and high schools are sometimes forced to put far more than 25 students in elective classes due to limited resources, which can take a toll on the teachers.

"It's exhausting," teacher Heather James said of the 200 students she's responsible for. A high school teacher in a course covered by the class-size limits would be responsible for no more than 150 students.

However, others, such as Mia Vargo do not mind the additional students.

"This class is very outspoken," she said, explaining that she likes how much louder and more vibrant it is.

While the majority of Brevard schools meet the class-size requirements, even one student over in one class means the district has violated the law and must pay a fine. District leaders estimate the penalty will be $170,000, Brevard spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said. To put it in perspective, that amount would pay the salaries and benefits of about three to four teachers.

"We've added teachers when we've needed to add teachers," principal Kerri Nash Meadowlane Intermediate in West Melbourne said where a class had over one student. "But there comes a time and a point where it does affect the budget, too, so you have to balance those things."

10 29, 2013
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