Class Size Reduction and Budget Cuts: The Perfect Storm

By Jesse Kirkpatrick….

Jesse Kirkpatrick

In Shakespeare’s words, “something was rotten in the state of Denmark” at the opening of the 2010-2011 Miami Beach Senior High school year. Electives had been cut, classes were capping too quickly to accommodate the demand, and schedule changes were nearly impossible to secure.

The Class Size Reduction Amendment, combined with a recession and dwindling funding to public education amassed into what Dr. Rosann Sidener, Miami Beach Senior High principal, called “the perfect storm.” Passed during a 2002 election, the amendment stipulated, among other things, that high schools must reduce each core class and academic elective size to 25 students or less by the 2010-2011 school year. An accompanying condition in the Florida Statutes stated that districts out of compliance by the deadline would be fined.

“The [25-student] hard cap on class sizes has made the economic situation more difficult,” said Sidener. “At the time when we have this kind of an economic crisis happening…and there is very meager funding for education…the class size amendment went into full swing.”

As a result of this confluence of adverse conditions, Beach High was faced with a number of lesser-of-two-evils situations. Teachers who had originally taught academic electives were forced to replace these classes with additional core classes to accommodate the 25-student limit. Therefore, classes like Law Studies, Anatomy and Physiology, and African American History were cut and high-demand classes were capped out so that teachers could devote more periods to core classes.

“I was dying to take AP Psychology, but I couldn’t because of the smaller class size,” said Beach High senior Sarah Joseph-Alexandre,.

According to Sidener, all cuts were made with the school’s academies in mind. If a proposed cut compromised any of Beach High’s unique and celebrated academies, it was rejected. According to Sidener, no matter what the future holds, the academies “are here to stay.”

However, even the school’s best efforts couldn’t bring it to complete compliance. As of the last evaluation, 41 of the school’s hundreds of classes were above the 25-student limit. In the grand scheme of things, this number is impressive, and is testament to the dedication and ingenuity of Beach High administrators and counselors. No fines have yet been levied against the school district for schools out of compliance. Because they are not an official part of the state Constitution, these provisions may be overruled, according to Sidener.

Many solutions have been proposed for the implementation of class size reduction in an economically feasible way. The proposed Amendment 8, which was rejected during the November general election, would have eased the class size burden by enforcing a limit on school-wide class averages, as opposed to hard caps on each individual class.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Sidener of the amendment. “It’s a solution to balancing the need for a lower class size with the economic reality of the day. However, I also think that 25 kids in a class is a good idea.”

However, according to Sidener, the real solution lies in the hands of state legislators, and ultimately, the community.

“If people want a quality education system, they need to lobby their representatives to fund it,” she said. “I understand that times are tough and they probably can’t fund it 100%, but the reduction of the state contributions to education has dropped dramatically in the last 4 to 5 years.”

Furthermore, Sidener said, the disparity in state funding from district to district has left M-DCPS with far less funding per student than almost every other school district in the state. Funds need to be distributed evenly across school districts.

“It doesn’t make sense that we’re getting $200 less per kid,” she said.

The future is uncertain. However, the economy will eventually return to normalcy, and it will be up to us to learn our lessons and continue acting prudently, allocating funds where they are most needed.

“We’re leaner and meaner,” Sidener said. “We will survive this.”

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