Contact Us
  • Comment

Class-size limits may not apply in Duval if open enrollment approved

Vitti: It's a side-effect of open enrollment

Posted: March 24, 2014 - 5:31pm  |  Updated: March 25, 2014 - 7:33am

If Duval County schools become “schools of choice” through open enrollment next year the district could, as a side benefit, gain some relief from the state’s limits on class sizes, school leaders said.

Florida sets limits on the total number of students a teacher can have in each core class in public schools, such as reading, math or science. The limits vary by grade ranges — kindergarten classes, for instance, can have at most 18 students per teacher, while middle-school classes can have 22 and high school can have 25 students per class.

DATABASE: Capacity rates for Duval public schools

Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.
Search tip: To get a listing of all schools leave the form blank and click search.

Student Assignment Policy (PDF document) | Feeder Pattern K-12(PDF document)

But while traditional public schools have to adhere to limits on a classroom-by-classroom basis, charter schools and “schools of choice,” such as magnet schools, get a break. Their limits can be based on school-wide class-size averages, rather than on a class-by-class limit.

RELATED: Duval County has room for school choice, but not everywhere

That means they have more staffing flexibility, said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who has been lobbying state lawmakers for the same staff flexibility for traditional public schools.

Two bills that would grant some relief in fines over staff limits have been heard in committees in Tallahassee, but the bills haven’t come to full chamber votes yet.

Vitti’s open-enrollment idea, however, could mean Duval schools won’t have to wait for those bills. With open enrollment, it’s possible the entire district would fall under the “schools of choice” exemption that charter schools enjoy, Vitti said.

“Although that would be an advantage, that was not the driving motivation” in proposing open enrollment, he said. Duval should open all its neighborhood schools to students throughout the county, regardless of home address, so the district can win back students from charter schools and private schools, he said.

Duval has lost thousands of students, and nearly $50 million in revenue, to charter schools and private schools that lured Duval students, he said. And with new charter schools opening in the region in upcoming years, open enrollment may be among the best ways to fight back.

“I want us to be proactive in an environment that is emphasizing and promoting [school] choice, and to be retaining as many students as we can in traditional public schools,” he said.

He has asked the School Board to consider it April 1. If it approves, parents could select schools outside their neighborhoods this spring for the upcoming school year, he said.

So far, most of the objection to his open-enrollment idea has come from board members and community leaders who foresee dire consequences for low-performing and under-enrolled schools, which would lose even more students. Some warned about school closings and increases in racial segregation.

But Vitti said most principals he polled and nearly every parent who has spoken to him have been in support of open enrollment, though some want free busing to accompany it.

There might also be objections to anything that rattles the class-size limits for public schools.

Florida voters in 2002 approved an amendment to Florida’s Constitution setting limits on the number of students enrolled in each core class. The state began fining violators in 2011and Duval has had fines nearly every year since.

This year, 95 percent of Duval’s schools were in compliance, Vitti said, but it would cost too much money, up to $20 million, to get the district in total compliance.

If the fines were based on school-wide classroom averages, Duval would be able to avoid fines in future years, he said, saving about $700,000 a year.

Also, Vitti estimated, Duval wouldn’t have to hold back $3 million to $5 million each year to make last-minute teacher hires, so that money could be returned to the district’s $1.7 billion budget.

But some parent representatives are urging caution; they want some questions answered first.

“Does this mean we will up our capacity in all of our schools or at some and not others?” asked Colleen Wood, who leads 50th No More, a group that champions local control and parent empowerment in education statewide.

“Does it mean it there will be bigger class sizes? That’s a fair question, because this year some of our class sizes went through the roof.”

At a community meeting with Vitti and several School Board members Monday night at First Coast High School on the Northside, no parents, out of more than 50 in attendance, spoke against open enrollment or against a flexible class size rule. But several parents complained that the schools in the area are overcrowded and said they doubted open enrollment was the solution.

Parent Dionne Gilmore said she hopes her daughter can fit into Sandalwood High’s technology program instead of having to send her to Terry Parker High in Arlington. She said Sandalwood, on the Southside, is crowded but “that’s not going to stop us from applying.” She also is considering charter school San Jose Preparatory High on Sunbeam Road.

Denise Amos: (904) 359-4083

Comments (9)

ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Mr McFeeley
Mr McFeeley 03/25/14 - 01:40 pm
Premium Member

There are many comments on

There are many comments on here that are not grounded in fact. How other disticts allocate choice and the fact that charter schools cherry pick their students are just idle speculation. What is true is Dr. Vitti has been looking for a way to circumvent class size amendment restrictions. How much of a change it will likely mean needs to be thoroughly researched before the school board does another rubber stamping of Vitti's latest idea. Many of the best schools are that way because they have populations of students that allow them to be successful and because these schools are already at or near capacity, the new school choice options will have little if any impact on them. Meanwhile, without busing available, most students will remain in their neighborhood schools. The end result will be little transformation but a way around class size.

One clear advantage charter schools have is that they generally have smaller class sizes which tends to allow more individualized teaching to occur. Other than that, where do the teachers come from who teach in charter schools? The pay is not better. The benefits are usually substantially less. Who are they hiring? Also, these schools are operating for profit. They are taking taxpayer money and making a profit from it. Florida already spends less per student than any state in the nation. How can a private entity actually make a buck? As underpaid and unappreciated as teachers are in Florida, still the best compensation is found in public schools. Why would a well qualified teacher take a job making less overall compensation when it is already laughably low?

olgator 03/25/14 - 12:18 pm
Premium Member

If this is being done in

If this is being done in larger distrticts I'd be interested in what happened to class size in district's best schools. And if classes increase a few years, what happens to school achievement.

Charters have diiferent rules. They can cherry pick students, don't have to take handicapped and have 100% of state construction/maintanence funds. They can also hire their brother in law to build that new school next to the public school that is getting closed.

Ron_Jax80 03/25/14 - 10:38 am
Premium Member

Ref this topic and a previous

Ref this topic and a previous similar topic which apparently had enough comments and interest.

Here is the other link I am referencing

Here is part of the comment I wrote there

"There is already a lot of extra money spent for busing. The bus companies will welcome all they can get of the 1.7 Billion allocated each year to Duval County Schools.

What are all the differences between Charter ad Public schools? Are Charter schools better and do the students learn more in Charter schools?

Didn't Vitti move supposedly the principals from better performing school to the lower performing schools in Nov and Dec? Was this move for discipline issues or to make the school better academically.

Currently it appears Superintendent Vitti is all over the map. I am not sure who he is listening to. His renaming Forrest process, bought light on how he operates. The way he got away from the media on the Judge Davis discipline issue was another. Not sure where this story is going, but I believe demanding more accountability is needed. Case in point Forrest High.

Are Charter Schools better than Public schools? Are the regulations and testing the same?"

JACPARENT 03/25/14 - 09:02 am

There is an upside to Mr.

There is an upside to Mr. Vitti's plan. Some of the schools within DCPS have been under enrolled and underperforming which, is a fancy way of stating they have been failing students and serving as nothing more than employment offices to crappy teachers and principals for years. Finally, someone is bold enough to try to resuscitate these schools and the an is criticized.
I agree, there appears to be some sort of other agenda and benefit to school choice, with DCPS avoiding fines and penalties for class size violations, but Vitti didn't cause that and many other school districts throughout Florida are doing the same thing.
I bet if you look at Miami, Broward, Orange County and Palm Beach, some of the larger systems, they probably have magnet and choice programs at all of their schools to try and offer options and better academic menus to students and parents and, at the same time, avoid class size requirements.
C'mon...give this a chance to work. Look at our can't possibly be any worse than what has taken place here over the past 20 years.
As for the segregation of communities and schools, that is nonsense and noise coming from groups that like to "stir the pot." Vitti, who some call a liberal, won't allow that to happen. My concern is school safety, whether the choice plan is approved or not, this needs to become a priority.
The man is trying to take on a system and community that claims it wants change but, when faced with it, runs and hides.

olgator 03/25/14 - 07:32 am
Premium Member

In the real world you get

In the real world you get fired if you refuse to do your job. In florida politics you get a big fat bribe er campaign contribution if you refuse to do your job. And if you are a gov employee you get a big promotion if you don't do your job, or help sabotage your area of responsibility. Are you vying for an invite to the Koch compound dr vitti? There's probably a seat for public school supt's who help destroy competition for the sacred money making charters by destroying the public schools charters can't compete with.

Back to Top

Sign up for's morning newsletter and get top stories each morning in your inbox.