Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LEGISLATURE 2003; Schools Anticipate Even Tighter Budgets Cap on Class Sizes Adding to Shortfall

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LEGISLATURE 2003; Schools Anticipate Even Tighter Budgets Cap on Class Sizes Adding to Shortfall

Article excerpt

Byline: Rich Tucker, Times-Union staff writer

********************CORRECTION M

Duval County had 12 schools receive a grade of F on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in 2002. Because of an editor's error, the number of schools was incorrect and the year was omitted in a graphic on Page A-11 yesterday.

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TALLAHASSEE -- Northeast Florida school officials said yesterday they will consider cutting personnel, bus routes and arts and music classes as they brace for another lean budget year.

Duval County schools are anticipating a $14 million budget shortfall, which could translate into staffing reductions and fewer special classes. Budget Director Stephen Bright said no final decisions had been reached on where to cut, and he said every effort would be made to limit the impact of the belt-tightening on the students.

Lawmakers and school officials partially blame the constitutional class-size amendment approved by voters in November for the budget crunch. The Legislature allocated $468 million statewide to implement the amendment, where by 2010 only 18 students can be assigned to a public school teacher in pre-kindergarten through third grade. The cap is 22 students in fourth through eighth grade and 25 students in high school.

"It's the class-size amendment that has come back to bite us," Bright said. "It's like the thorn on the rose."

In Clay County, which drew the smallest per-student funding increase of any district in the state, schools may have to cut teacher's aides and administrative personnel. In St. Johns County, which was less hard-hit by the cuts, school officials are considering reducing busing for students who participate in after-school activities.

Nassau County school officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Within its $28.8 million funding increase this year, Duval County got about $22.4 million to reduce class sizes, a task that local officials estimate will cost closer to $24 million.

But insurance rates and operating costs for Duval are rising. And with area schools expecting about 1,500 additional students next year, Bright said the county may have to hold off on some teacher pay increases and postpone buying some classroom supplies.

School officials will be deciding what exactly to cut in the next few weeks, Bright said.

"We're not trying to scare anybody. It's a difficult time," he said. "We're going to have to cut. With that some pain is going to come."

St. Johns County is planning to hire 99 new teachers next year to comply with the class size amendment. Teacher hirings and other class size reduction measures will consume nearly half of the district's $8.3 million funding increase.

Despite a projected 700 to 800 student enrollment increase next year, St. Johns County's school transportation budget will drop by $65,000, according to its finance director, Conley Weiss. …

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