State will not fine Lake County over class-size violations - South Lake Press: News

Tavares State will not fine Lake County over class-size violations

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Posted: Saturday, March 22, 2014 6:00 am

The Florida Department of Education will not fine Lake County schools for class-size violations because the district conducted a self-audit and corrected its numbers on its own.

“The district determined, based on the audit, that they needed to submit updated data,” said Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman for the FLDOE, in an email. “They did so within the appeal window. They were never out of compliance.”

During a press conference in February, Superintendent Susan Moxley called for an independent review of all schools in the district to determine whether any class-size violations were knowingly made.

This follows the determination that six school principals broke the law by inaccurately reporting their class sizes to the state.

“During the appeals process, the district submitted data revisions that resulted in 64.45 full-time equivalent students out of compliance and a reduction of $191,174 in the class size operating categorical allocation,” wrote Linda Champion, deputy commissioner for the FDOE, in a letter to the superintendent. “Subsequent to the data revisions, the unexpected growth adjustments resulted in no financial adjustment to the district’s class size categorical operating allocation.”

Moxley said in an email the school had an increase of 401.42 full-time equivalent (FTE) over what the state projected.

School Board members voted 3-1 recently to approve a $20,000 contract with Carr, Riggs and Ingram LLC to review the school district’s class-size compliance policies and procedures.

Board members Debbie Stivender, Rosanne Brandeburg and Tod Howard voted to approve the contract. Kyleen Fischer dissented and Mathias was absent.

Several School Board members previously said while the costs of the independent review are necessary to address whether principals knowingly coerced teachers to falsify their class rosters during FTE week, when schools are required to provide an accurate count of student enrollment to the state.

By Florida law, public schools are not permitted to exceed certain class-size limits: 18 students per class in grades prekindergarten through grade 3, 22 per class in grades 4 through 8 and 25 in grades 9 through 12. Schools that violate the class-size limits are subject to fines.

Simone Maduro-Ferguson, a teacher at Lake Minneola High School, recently tipped off the state about the class- size violations.

In her complaint, she claims she was asked to remove kids from her class roster during FTE counting week.

School district officials subsequently launched an investigation and found additional reporting problems in five other schools.

Principals at Mount Dora High School, Tavares Elementary School, Sawgrass Bay Elementary in Clermont, Sorrento Elementary, Lake Minneola High School and Grassy Lake Elementary in Minneola, reported that their average class sizes were smaller than they actually are.

Moxley wrote she believes the “independent review will assist the district in strengthening procedures and work processes relating to class-size reporting.”

The state fined the school district $1.13 million last year because of inconsistent attendance and enrollment records during the 2011-12 school year at two charter schools, Alee Academy and Milestone Community School. A state audit found administrators keeping attendance records at Alee didn’t follow regulations and fined the district $986,378. An additional $16,366 fine was levied because seven “non-sampled students were not properly reported” at Milestone, the audit found.

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