School Board delays decision to join class size related lawsuit

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The Indian River County School Board has not yet decided if it wants to join a multiple School Board lawsuit against the state.

At issue are new penalties the State Legislature passed during the last session pertaining to class size reduction requirements. Though out-going School Board member Debbie MacKay brought up the law suit and requested the board sign on, other members balked, saying they need more information first.

Under prior penalties, the Indian River County School District had to transfer $17,000 from its operating budget to its capital budget after Beachland Elementary School failed to meet class size requirements.

If that had happened under the new penalties, which are to go into effect this fall, the School District would have had to give the State $17,000. Three-quarters of the amount would have gone back to the district, but the remaining 25 percent would have been awarded to schools that met their class size requirements, according to Schools Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava.

Board member Matt McCain said that the new penalties, given the current economic realities, are “somewhat confusing.”

McCain told the board that in November voters will decide on whether changes will be made to the class size reduction rules and that perhaps the School Board should wait to see what happens there before signing onto the lawsuit.

The initial cost to join the suit is $1,500, as a retainer to the law firm assigned to file the suit on behalf of the Florida School Board Association. McCain voiced concern that there was no mention in the material provided of how much money the district might be asked to contribute throughout the process.

“It kind of got me a little squirrelly,” McCain said when he realized the information wasn’t there.

Assistant School Board Attorney Alfred Truesdell told board members they could consider placing a cap on the amount they are willing to contribute.

“There really isn’t any limit, the way this is written,” Truesdell said of the contribution.

MacKay suggested a $3,000 cap, but fellow board members said they didn’t know how that would affect other school boards’ participation in the suit.

“I want to be counted,” MacKay said, adding that there is something to be said about providing leadership. “Let us not be silent.”

MacKay urged the board to join the suit now, saying that if they do not join the litigation, then the board is not taking responsibility.

La Cava told the board that the director of the Florida School Board Association will be meeting with members next week and that they could talk to him about the lawsuit at that time.

The board decided to hold off on making a decision on the suit until its next board meeting – once members speak with the association director and hear back from the law firm how much they might be asked to contribute.

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