I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Florida Class Size Compliance: Is it Really as Simple as Saying “We Can’t Afford to Comply?”

It isn’t. Elected constitutional officers cannot blatantly disregard the will of the people, the constitution, and the law. Saying “We cannot come into full compliance, because we cannot afford to” is not a rational legal argument. Florida law speaks to this issue, as Sec. 1001.42(15), lists one of the School Board's duties as:

ENFORCEMENT OF LAW AND RULES.--Require that all laws and rules of the State Board of Education or of the district school board are properly enforced.

                                                                                     The above is fairly succinct and on-point.

Around the State, though, some school districts are saying they might not comply. Other districts, at the urging of their operations, curriculum, and budgeting staffs, are planning to start next school year out of compliance. They will "lean forward" in an attempt to comply.  That is astonishing.  Any Board Members that go along with that or contemplate going along with that line of thinking need to understand the gravity of that position; They should also read about Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and how it may/could eventually morph and be applied to small governmental boards. Unions (and their attorneys) who are enamored with class size hard caps would really like this. The essence of SOX as I read it—Boards of Directors must have oversight and be cognizant. Boards of Directors cannot vote for a policy and then say as a body (or individually) they did not understand the consequences of said policy. If a board of directors vote for a policy (even one that staff feel is the proper way to proceed) then the board owns the culpability if things go awry.

But the even more important and relevant question about open, unabashed non-compliance With Florida Class Size Law is this:

Will the NEA, AFT, FEA and The EEA (and their attorneys) sit idly by while (and if) School Boards across the state of Florida wantonly defy the Florida Constitution? I do not think so-I think they will go after those that blatantly disregard the statute, in court, in the court of public opinion, and at election time. So while we as individual members of the Board may understand the complexities of the issue and the challenges of class size compliance--legally we do not have the luxury of saying “We’ll go ahead and pay the penalty, it’s cheaper.” I discussed this issue at length last week at the school board workshop with my fellow Board Members and Mrs. Donna Waters, General Counsel of the School Board of Escambia County. Mrs. Waters has said the following with respect to the Board’s handling of class size compliance planning:

“it is up to the School Board to see that all laws are being followed by the district. We cannot have a policy which contemplates violation of a law. On any matter approved by the Board, the members must have a good faith reason to believe that the action taken will be in compliance with the law.”

The above is also fairly succinct and on-point.

Mandatory Class Size laws with firm, rigid caps are fiscally irresponsible and I personally do not support them. Research does not support the claims that mandatory class size caps drastically improve student achievement, not until a 15-1 student-teacher ratio is reached. 15-1, by the way, is financially unachievable. Meanwhile, budgets continue to shrink yet additional teachers need to be hired to meet Florida's strict law. At the Elementary level in Escambia County, current projections are that we will be 57 students over the rigid class size cap district- wide. This condition will necessitate the hiring 23 additional elementary teachers district- wide at a cost of over $1Million to meet the letter of the law.

 Does $1Million dollars for 57 students over the cap sound rational to anyone other that the organized Teacher’s Unions, the NEA, FEA,  AFT, and the EEA (and their attorneys)? Of course not.

Taxpayers need to rise up and join forces with the School Boards Association, The Superintendents Association, The Tea Partiers, and anyone who is rational and vote to amend the class size law. The original incarnation of Florida Class Size was pushed vigorously by those with a financial agenda (Unions) and the final phase of compliance will force districts to become draconian in spending decisions—which will negatively impact students.  We need to "right size class size" and pass the class size ammendment on the November ballot.

But in the meantime, we must make every effort to comply with this existing class size law until such time as it is changed.  Period, break, end of text.

This means we must vote, as board members, for policy and staffing that we feel will put our distict into compliance with the law at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

This is America and not an ala carte café-- we do not get to pick and choose which laws we follow, we can only do what we can to fix or repeal the bad laws.

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