Pasco County Schools has submitted a class size appeal with the Florida Commissioner of Education, as the district lacks a sufficient number of teachers to fully staff its schools.
Superintendent Kurt Browning and the Pasco County School Board discussed the problem during the Jan. 17 board meeting.
Browning said the district has complied with state class size requirements for years, but hasn’t been able to achieve that this year.
School board member Cynthia Armstrong said the district is diligently searching to fill the vacancies.
“In the past, class size has been a budget issue. We didn’t have the money to hire the teachers. “We’re in a totally different situation now. We would love to hire the teachers. We are just having to look behind every tree to find them,” Armstrong said.
Board colleague Colleen Beaudoin agreed.
“We’re trying really hard to fill these positions. We don’t want to go over class size. Nobody wants to do that. We’re doing everything we can to hire highly qualified teachers.
“It’s not acceptable to have kids sitting in a classroom without a highly qualified teacher. And sometimes having a class size a little bigger to have a student have a highly qualified teacher is what we have to do. It’s not ideal, but our students need highly qualified teachers,” she said.
Board chairwoman Megan Harding added: “I’ve heard from a lot of my peers who actually have really big class sizes, especially in kindergarten. Really big.”
Pasco isn’t alone in its inability to fill all teacher vacancies, the shortage is being experienced across the state and nation.
While the school district awaits word on the state’s decision regarding its class size appeal, it also has submitted a class size compliance plan to the Florida Department of Education for consideration, in case its appeal fails.
The compliance plan explains how each school plans to meet the class size requirement for the October 2023 Full-time Equivalent (FTE) student survey.
Browning told board members that he appreciated the discussion around the district’s class size compliance plan.
“The state’s process is a little backwards,” Browning said. “We had to file the appeal by the sixth of January, which is the week we returned from Christmas break. So you file your appeal regarding class size, but they don’t make a determination regarding whether they’re going grant the appeal until after the deadline for the compliance plan to be brought to the board and approved.
Although he appreciates the district’s substitute teachers, Browning said, “there’s nothing like having that highly qualified teacher, in front of those students, every day. That’s what makes a difference.
“I’m hoping the department (Florida Department of Education) will grant us our appeal because that would mean significantly less penalty for us. But we will wait and see. We have done everything the state has asked us to do. We’ve made our case to the state. Now, we sit and wait.”
Both Harding and Beaudoin reported that requests have been made to the state legislators to amend the Florida Retirement System to enable retired teachers to return to become substitute teachers. As it stands now, there’s a mandatory waiting period.
Changing the state’s retirement system would enable the district to address staffing shortages.
“They would be highly qualified.” Harding said.
Don Peace, union president for the United School Employees of Pasco, said beyond finding new teachers to fill openings, the district needs to consider ways to retain teachers.
He pointed to comments in a Gallup survey that “include concerns with teacher workload, communication and data collection.”
Plus, Peace noted: “We need to continually look at removing add-ons to our teachers and let them concentrate on delivery of instruction to students.”
Published February 01, 2023