When it became official earlier this year that the class size-cutting Amendment 9 would be on the fall ballot, Hillsborough County reacted immediately. It stopped getting rid of its portable classrooms.
“We worked hard to get out of the portable business,” ruefully recalls Hillsborough County Superintendent Earl Lennard. “But we ceased liquidating our portables when that Amendment got on the ballot.”
That action, however, was it for proactive moves undertaken by Hillsborough County. All else awaited the Amendment’s outcome. Its Nov. 5 passage — although voted down in Hillsborough County — meant Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature would have to hash out the details, which included settling on some key definitions and finding requisite resources in a brutal budget year.
“The Amendment itself left a lot unanswered,” says Lennard. “But the people have spoken. It was done in good faith. It’s over with. We will do it.”
What they will have to do is hire more teachers and provide more classrooms and pay for it with money they don’t have. And the 8-year, phased-in, mandated class sizes (18 for K-3; 22 for grades 4-8; and 25 for 9-12) commence next August. Hillsborough, which adds, on average, about 1,000 teachers a year, will need about 1,600 next year. Amendment 9 hits at the same time attrition rates among teachers are spiking with retiring boomers, including the first group of DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) retirees.
“We’re under ever greater pressure to provide teachers in a diminishing market,” says Lennard. “We will do it, but we will have to put on a full court press to get teachers. But I remain concerned that we NOT lower our standards to meet the intent of Amendment 9. That would create a worse teaching situation than higher numbers with qualified teachers.”
What Lennard wants above all, he says, is flexibility. Especially in the first year. Especially when it comes to figuring out class sizes. He hopes countywide averages prevail.
“Not every district is the same,” he points out. “Not every school within a district is the same. For example, some schools have no room for portables; schools such as Gorrie (Elementary) and Wilson (Middle). So it’s absolutely necessary to have maximum flexibility.”
Currently the county is “looking at everything,” says Lennard, which ranges from “co-teachers” presiding over large classes to teachers losing their planning periods.
If nothing else, Lennard notes ironically, the Amendment 9 crucible is putting educational nostalgia into a new context.
“It used to be that the ‘good old days’ were when you were in school, the ’50s and ’60s,’ Lennard notes. “Now it may be four weeks ago — just prior to Nov. 5.”