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Lee school officials support Amendment 8

By Staff | Oct 9, 2010

During the November general election, voters will decide Amendment 8, which addresses class sizes across the state.
According to the Lee County School District, the ballot measure that will be presented to the community proposes an amendment to the class size provision of the Florida Constitution, which would require compliance with present standards at the school level rather than at each classroom.
The proposed amendment would set a cap for every individual classroom of 21 students for grades pre-k through third grade; 27 for grades four through eight and 30 for grades nine through 12. The school district will have to meet these caps or risk paying a fine for every student who is enrolled over the cap.
The original class size amendment, which was approved by citizens in 2002, was set into the Florida Constitution to set limits on how many students were in core classes. Those limits calculated out to have 18 students for prekindergarten through third grade classes, 22 students for fourth through eighth grade and 25 students for ninth through 12th grade.
The law was fully implemented during the current school year, which means that class sizes were calculated in each individual classroom.
Gulf Elementary School is currently the largest elementary school in the district with 1,150 students. Since the beginning of the school year, Principal Donald Hopper said he hired two additional teachers to meet the class size amendment.
Hopper said he has had to remain “real mindful” to keep the right amount of students in the classroom, since the class size amendment was implemented.
He said from the flexibility standpoint, it has been challenging to meet the needs of every child. Hopper said the planning and development department of the district does a good job in making sure the schools have the right number of students in the classrooms.
He said it has been challenging because every minute of every day, he has to make sure that pre-kindergarten through third grade classes have no more than18 students at all times and fourth and fifth grade classes have no more than 22 students.
“As educators we are concerned that we cannot have the flexibility that we like to have in our schools,” he said.
Hopper explained that before the amendment was approved children were still in smaller classrooms, but he was provided with the flexibility to deviate from a classroom size of 18 and 22 students.
“I would have a class of 15 students and another of 21 students,” he said.
He said the classroom of 15 students provided the youngsters with more direct instruction from the teacher due to the smaller teacher-to-student ratio. The classroom of 21 students was geared toward youngsters who were more self-sufficient at times.
Board Member Jane Kuckel said if Amendment 8 is defeated, it will cost an additional $5 million for the school district, due to the increase of classrooms and teachers hired. She said that amount would only increase from year to year.
Kuckel said the class size amendment is also a very cumbersome piece of legislation.
“If every classroom can only have 18 first grade students and the 19th first grader comes in, you have to hire a second teacher to split up that classroom,” she said.
Kuckel said the amendment eliminates the flexibility the district has to organize the classrooms and regroup students according to what is academically sensible.
“It will financially bankrupt the state and it is not financially sound,” Kuckel said about Amendment 8.
District Communications Director Joe Donzelli said if Amendment 8 passes it will allow the district to do exactly what it has been doing for the past two years.
“We are asking to keep things where they are now,” he said.
Donzelli asks that voters understand the facts about the amendment when going to the polls on Nov. 2.
He said voters need to understand that the class sizes are not going to balloon to astronomical sizes because the law does not allow that to happen in the core classes. He said there are still caps on the class sizes for which the Amendment 8 calls.