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Officials say school district positioned to deal with defeat of Amendment 8

By Staff | Nov 3, 2010

Although Amendment 8 was defeated statewide, Lee County voters were in favor of the modified class size initiative.
Florida voters rejected the amendment with 54 percent of the votes – 2,688,936. Although the amendment was defeated statewide, a little more than 60 percent of Lee County voters –99,288 — were in favor of allowing school districts greater flexibility concerning classroom numbers.
For an amendment to pass, it needs a minimum of 60 percent of the votes statewide.
The defeat of the amendment means class sizes stay where voters previously decided they should be.
Classrooms must have no more than 18 students for prekindergarten through third-grade classes, no more than 22 students for fourth through eighth-grade students and no more than 25 students for 9th through 12th-grade students.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Larry Tihen said the people of Florida voted for class size caps a few years ago and then the state came back with the proposed revision, which voters then opposed Tuesday.
“This is what the public wants,” he said.
Tihen explained that it is their job as a school district to implement and initiate procedures to ensure the mandate is carried out because they all work for the citizens of Florida.
Board Member Jeanne Dozier said the people have spoken and the district will do what it has to do to make sure it meets the class size requirements. She explained that although officials were anticipating a different response from the public, the school district already had made sure that it was in compliance with the original class size amendment prior to the election.
The school district already budgeted the $10 million cost officials say was associated with the original mandate.
“We are in very good shape to continue the rest of the year,” Tihen said. “Next year we are in good shape, too.”
Now, Dozier said, it is the “paramount duty of the state to adequately fund the class size amendment.” She said she hopes the state finds the money to fund the class size amendment without taking funds from other areas of education.
Since the School Choice System was implemented within the school district well before the original amendment, the district is not faced with moving students to other schools to meet the class size requirements. Tihen said students are assigned to a specific school and they will stay there.
“With our choice system in place we have the best system,” Tihen said, adding this is a “huge help to us at this time.”
As the district grows, space may become an issue as it relates to classroom caps.
“As Lee County continues to grow we will have challenges in terms of space,” Tihen said.
He explained that they may have to put some portables in place to meet school building patterns, when necessary.
Students will not see the loss of programs this year but Tihen said the district may have to look at some program adjustments in the future.
Gulf Middle School Principal Bill Lane said he believes the amendment did not pass because the wording was very confusing and there was a lot of misleading information.
He explained they will not do anything differently because the class size requirements were already set in place.
“We aren’t going to skip a beat,” Lane said.
The continued difficulties of placing 22 students in a classroom from a scheduling standpoint will remain Lane’s biggest challenge.
He explained that the difficulties occur when the students need to have double blocks in their schedule to meet other rules and regulations because of FCAT testing results.
If the revised amendment had passed, Lane said he would have been able to go back to a building average, which would have given him more flexibility with scheduling.
The building average method would have given him the ability to apply an average number of students to a classroom instead of a specific number of students per class.
Lane said the building average methodology would have been a reasonable request because he could have allocated students where they needed to be.
The school will continue to move forward and do what is best for the children, Lane said.