Statewide changes that took effect two years ago have changed the process for counting class sizes, bringing with them greater risk for noncompliance fees within Flagler County Schools.
“It’s too hard to manage,” said Tom Tant, chief financial officer for the district. “We’re doing the best we can to be in compliance, and we always have been in the past, but (the new system) is very micromanaging of class size.”
Class sizes used to be measured in aggregate, by taking into account the number of students and teachers within a school. But starting two years ago, the count is taken within individual classrooms, and fees are assessed on a per-student basis.
That means in a third-grade classroom, where the state requires there be no more than 18 students, if one other student is in the classroom for any period, the district is considered out of compliance for that student.
The district is currently waiting to see whether it is in compliance with the state’s class size regulations for the academic year, but with the new system, Tant said, there’s a chance they could be off, even though in the past, the district has always met regulations.
“We have 12,900 students in our district,” he said. “The opportunity for us to be out of compliance in 15 or 20 classrooms through the school district is tremendous, but we’re doing the best we can to keep that from happening.”
Florida limits class sizes to 18 students for kindergarten through third-grade classrooms; 22 for fourth- through eighth-grade classrooms; and 25 for ninth- through 12th-graders.
The district should know within a couple of weeks whether it has met regulations. At that time, if it is out of compliance, the state will assess a fine against the district.
If that happens, Tant said, the school district will submit an appeal in February 2013, which, if accepted, will reduce fees against Flagler schools by 75%. Schools that are out of compliance for the first time usually are granted their appeal, Tant said.
Fees are assessed on a per-student basis: For each additional student in a classroom that has met its capacity, the district is charged. The fee is based on the number of periods the student has been out of compliance and the student’s age. The younger the student, the higher the fee.
There are several contributing factors that determine the fee for each student, but fees should be no more than $900 per student before the anticipated 75% discount the district would earn if it were to be charged, Tant said.
And since it’s hard for the district to gauge exactly how much fines would be or if there will be fines at all, it’s difficult to determine whether hiring a new teacher for one or two extra students during one period would be prudent.
At present, the district is trying to be meticulous in tracking where its students are at all times by accounting for each classroom at any time during the day. Tant said this is how the district was able to meet regulations in previous years.
“Trying to stay in compliance with these rules is taking a lot of time,” Tant said. “If you have one school with six periods and 100 classrooms — that’s 600 opportunities to be out of compliance.”
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