A bill that was approved by the Senate Education Committee Monday now allows local school officials to phase in reductions to the maximum class size for kindergarten through third grade — a compromise that prevents local school districts from making drastic cuts to supplemental programs.
House Bill 13, as originally proposed, caused panic and worry among local education groups, teachers and parents and was forcing local school leaders to look for ways to cut class sizes, yet leave nonessential classes like art and music in place. Now, those caps won’t have to be met until fall 2018.
The bill proposes that during the 2017-18 school year the class size averages in grades K-3 shall not exceed 20 students and that the maximum students in any one class will not exceed 23 students. In subsequent years, 2018 and beyond, the class size averages in grades K-3 will have to equal the allotment ratios and the maximum in any one class could not be more than three students above the allotment ratio. If the funded allotments do not change there would be one teacher to every 18 students in kindergarten, one teacher to every 16 students in first grade, and one teacher to every 17 students in second and third grade.
While Clinton City Schools superintendent Dr. Stuart Blount says it is still too early to determine the full impact of the revision, he is certain changes will afford the system the opportunity to best serve the students.
“Although it is still too early to determine the complete impact this revision will have on our class sizes in K-3, we are confident that it will greatly assist us in providing the staff necessary to teach the students we serve and will potentially eliminate additional local dollars needed to fund positions associated with the law set to go into effect for the 2017-2018 school year,” Blount said. “The revision restores the average class size and individual class size maximum for K-3 to almost the current level.”
Like many superintendents across the state, Sampson County Schools superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy says his staff began working on plans when the bill was first proposed.
“Since the original HB13 emerged, our district began planning to implement that and worked out contingencies based on that becoming the law,” Bracy noted. “This new compromise is at least as helpful, and possibly more so, than that original bill in enabling us to retain the teachers our students need in all grade levels.”
Senator Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, one of the senators who has proposed the compromise, said it is intended to create a new funding allotment for the specialty teachers, but that they must first collect data to know how much to fund for the needed positions.
“We’ve been working on this issue for months. We are pleased to finally arrive at this solution that we believe gives administrators, teachers, parents and students certainty about what will happen next school year while making sure taxpayers are getting the smaller classes they’ve paid for,” Barefoot said.
The compromise bill also creates a new reporting requirement that all school districts will be required to follow. The report will be due from the local board of education in both September and in February of each year. The report must include, for each class in each grade level at the school, the duties of the teacher, source of funds to pay the teacher and the number of students assigned to the class. For each school, the report must include the number of program enhancement teachers and the source of funds to pay the teachers.
Blount said that the staff of Clinton City Schools will have no problem providing the information when requested.
“We will continue to work with the Department of Public Instruction and the N.C. General Assembly to provide the requested data,” Blount explained. “The review of class sizes throughout the district is something we currently do on a regular basis and the additional reporting component would not change that.”
“The new reporting is important to our lawmakers to ensure transparency and accountability for their investment in lowering class sizes,” Bracy said. “We as a district do not see the required reports as a barrier and will comply to the best of our ability in sharing requested information.”
The superintendent of the state’s Department of Public Instruction will be required to conduct periodic audits. If it is determined that the LEA (local educational agency) is exceeding requirements for average and individual class sizes without a waiver, the State Board of Education may impose a penalty and may withhold state funds for the superintendents’ salary.
Both local superintendents admit that the compromise is a positive solution and will allow the districts adequate time to not only work to reduce class sizes, but keep nonessential subject teachers in place.
“We are happy that lawmakers listened to concerns from our district and others and are moving forward with a positive solution that provides a reasonable timeline for reducing class sizes,” Bracy explained. “We also appreciate their commitment to add a new funding stream with additional funding for supporting our enhancement teachers as we move to year two of the phase in. We will watch House and Senate budget negotiations over the next few weeks and hope to see that funding emerge there to help us adequately plan for the 2018-19 school year.”
Overall, Blount says, the bill will provide school systems with much needed flexibility to best serve the students.
“It restores some of the flexibility that school systems currently use to provide not only regular classroom instruction, but also to provide the enhancement positions like art, music, physical education, which are an important component of public schools,” Blount said. “We continue to appreciate the opportunity to work with the members of the General Assembly and sincerely thank them for the work they do to provide funding for public schools in North Carolina.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.