School Board proposes additional quarter mill

-A A +A

Meeting Class Size Amendment proving to be a challenge

By Steve Waters

 The School Board of Levy County is facing several financial hazards entering the new fiscal year, and the board used Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the potential hurdles.

In a public hearing before the official school board meeting, the board discussed the challenges posed by the final phase of Florida’s Class Size Amendment. In a non-agenda item during the meeting, the board unanimously approved a referendum to add an additional quarter mill to the school board’s millage rate. The board must present the quarter mill proposal by ballot to the public during the Nov. 2 election. If it passes, an additional 0.25 mills will be added to the discretionary critical needs portion of the millage. Last week, the board approved a tentative millage of 7.653 for the next fiscal year, which includes an additional quarter mill for discretionary critical needs. According to the tentative millage, the current quarter mill would bring in $493,639 to the school district. The state would contribute 50 percent of that sum for a total of $767,297 in funding. If the referendum passes, the additional critical needs millage would take effect starting in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. After two years, the issue would have to be put to a vote again. Following the meeting, Superintendent Bob Hastings said in years past, the state has gradually lowered a portion of the millage, placing the decision to implement these portions on a district-by-district basis. “It’s really not an addition to the tax,” Hastings said. “It’s just the maintaining of what was there.” During the Class Size Amendment hearing, Director of Finance Bob Clemons told the board that the school district is potentially not in compliance with the final phase of the amendment. In the final phase, the district must adhere to the amendment’s requirements on a class-by-class basis, rather than a  district or school average. The requirements are 18 students per elementary class, 22 per middle school class and 25 per high school class. The amendment applies to core classes such as math, science and foreign languages. The potential financial penalty to the district averages to $2,708 for each student over the required limit, for a total hit of $570,573 to the district. According to school district estimates taken this past October, the district is a total of 210 students over the limit. The solutions to the problem doesn’t offer much hope, Clemons said.  “As you go down the list, it gets more and more painful,” he said of the proposed solutions. Options being discussed to meet the requirements include hiring additional teachers in a tough financial time, redistributing budget money, modifying class schedules and even transferring students to other schools. Hastings said transferring students in a large, rural district would be difficult. “What the legislature doesn’t see, is that one size does not fit all. ... You can’t ask two kindergartners from Cedar Key to transfer to Chiefland,” he said. If the district submits a plan to the state on how it would meet the amendment’s requirements, the penalty could be reduced by as much as 75 percent. Also, there is a proposal on the ballot for this November than loosens some of the requirements. Hastings said that the school district currently has employed 73 more teachers than in 2002 to meet the amendment, with roughly the same number of students, if not fewer. “Still, it will be a miracle if we make he class size amendment,” he said.