Hillsborough School Board hopefuls disagree on class size

07/21/10 Kate Bradshaw
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This year, three Hillsborough County School Board Seats are up for a vote. District Four consists largely of unincorporated areas of the county’s eastern reaches. That district may be home to one of the school district’s more contentious races.

Kirk Faryniasz, one of the candidates for Hillsborough County’s District Four School Board Seat, says those who making decisions for area schools determine a region’s fate.

"The School Board is a race that most people ignore, but this is where our county is headed. We keep talking about bringing in jobs, but if we don't have an educated populous, we can't do it."

Richard Bartels is a candidate in the same race. He says Florida has done a terrible job at ensuring quality education.

"The state of Florida has failed miserably in it's constitutional responsibility to provide for the education of our kids. Article Nine of the Florida Constitution requires adequate provision. Unfortunately many of the legislature view adequate as minimal, and I'm concerned about the lack of funding. Our teachers have not had a raise for three years."

The incumbent in the school board’s District 4 race is Jennifer Faliero, who points to a $100 million Gates Foundation grant as one sign that the district is headed in the right direction. Faliero has been under fire because she didn’t include credit card debt on her candidate disclosure form. She says the tens of thousands of dollars in previously unreported debt shouldn’t affect her candidacy.

"It was an error in terms of misinterpretation. It was addressed, and the report was amended. We just need to leave it at that and move on."

But Stacy White, the fourth candidate in the race, says it does reflect on her ability to manage the district’s sizable budget.

"Quite frankly if you can't manage a simple household budget, I don't think that you should be entrusted with a 3 billion dollar a year school district budget."

One of the biggest challenges the district faces this year is the implementation of the final stage of the class size amendment that voters adopted in 2002. Starting next month, class sizes will be capped at 18 for pre-k through third grade, 22 for fourth through eighth grade, and 25 for high school students. A proposed constitutional amendment could reverse that if voters pass it in November. White, a pharmacist with children attending public schools, said he supports a cap on class size, but that they’re not always possible.

"I think that the ultimate goal should be to have class sizes that are in line with what education research says that they should be for the most optimal educational experience. But I would be receptive to looking at things like using overall averages in the school for people to teach ratios until we get out of this budgetary crisis."

Faliero says that the class size limits could mean that those moving to Florida may not be able to send their kids to the nearest schools.

"There are some serious challenges because it's not on people's radar that it is very possible now that the amendment is in place, that a person who moves into a neighborhood may not be able to go to their own school."

Faryniasz says the law poses a unique challenge to district four in that the bureaucracy may too ungainly to keep up with class size fluctuations that occur due to the area’s migrant populations.

"Part of my district is in Wymauma. We have a lot of migrant workers. We could get into a situation were one student moves in their, we make all the changes and disrupt the whole school system, and then two weeks later they're gone. So the principle will be to have some flexibility and hopefully the voters in November will bring about some logic to this. It's going to be difficult when we start, but we need to be looking to get the education out so people make the right choice in November."

But Bartels, a former high school principal, said class size limits are key, especially in early education, and that the state legislature can’t be trusted to do what’s right for education.

"I think the amendment was passed by the voters because they saw that the legislature had failed to provide for public funding of education. I would hope that the voters will retain the original amendment. We can not trust the legislature to do what's right with education."

The four candidates vying for the Hillsborough County School Board District 4 seat will be on the ballot for the August 24 primary. The top candidates in that race will face off in the general election November second.

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