TAMPA – Hillsborough County classrooms are meeting the state’s class size law, sparing local officials the choice some districts are making to break the rules and pay hefty fines.
The law sets a cap of 18 students per class in kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth grades and 25 students in ninth through 12th grades.
“I believe it’s important to follow the law,” Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said during a school board meeting Tuesday.
Some districts — like Brevard County on the Space Coast — are choosing to break the class-size law because paying a fine to the state would be cheaper than hiring extra teachers to comply.
In 2002, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment setting limits for the maximum number of students in a class by the start of the 2010-11 school year.
The limits apply to core classes like math and English, but not to art, music and other classes.
“I’ve been vocal in some circumstances where I don’t think the class size amendment is helping us across the board,” Elia said. “But the voters of Florida twice have told us that is what they want.”
Last Friday was the deadline for school districts to submit their October enrollment counts to the Florida Department of Education, which are used to determine whether they comply with the class size caps. A department spokeswoman said the statewide report is not yet available.
For Hillsborough, the eighth-largest school district in the nation with 204,731 students, it was a tough task to get all classrooms under the caps.
Since late September, the district has hired about 30 teachers to comply. The school district closely tracks which schools need new teachers to accommodate any overflow.
“The principals send in daily reports and they make requests for additional units,” spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.
In Pasco County, which serves 68,904 students, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said district officials believe all schools are in compliance with the rules.
In early budget talks, district officials discussed breaking the class-size requirements on purpose this school year if classes went over the caps. In the 2010-11 school year, Pasco did not meet the caps and was fined $1 million.