House Bill 13 is rearing its ugly head again, now that local school officials are having to bring the legislation back to the table and start making decisions about reducing class sizes without cutting nonessential positions.
As approved in April, school districts could phase in classroom size reductions, but the bill should fully be in place for the 2018-19 school year. The bill proposes the class size average in grades K-3 shall not exceed 20 students and that the maximum students in any one class will not exceed 23 students.
According to the bill, 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.
During a board work session Thursday night, Clinton City Schools superintendent Dr. Stuart Blount asked board members to start thinking about the hard decisions that must be made before the beginning of next school year.
“The state does not give funds for positions like art and music that are enhancement positions,” Blount shared. “And you can’t use federal money to fix any problems with the classroom size. On top of that, systems are facing a decrease in the funding they are getting.”
The compromise bill that was approved in April created a new reporting requirement that all school districts are required to follow.
The report was due from the local board of education in September and again in February. 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.
“Based on the report that was recently pulled and submitted, I am happy to report that Clinton City Schools is not in violation of the classroom size law,” Blount explained.
Each system’s superintendent is allowed to request a waiver that allows the district to have a larger class size in enhancement classes like art, music and physical education. However, that waiver does not extend into the next school year, which means those enhancement programs could get cut by 2018 for all elementary students.
The superintendent of the state’s Department of Public Instruction is 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.
Blount has stated that the compromise bill was a positive solution and has allowed the district adequate time to not only work to reduce class sizes, but keep nonessential subject teachers in place.
According to Blount, as the bill stands, the legislation will require Clinton City Schools to hire an additional six to eight teachers. If school systems throughout the state lose the previous flexibility and are mandated to add and fund additional K-3 teachers and classrooms, as currently written in legislation, this will impact students, teachers, and classrooms from a K-12 perspective, more specifically, grades 4-12, where there are no restrictions on the class size.
“When you push down and tighten the reins there, other areas are affected,” Blount said.
In Clinton City Schools, Blount said there are currently nine positions funded through local funds. Based on the new legislation, local funds will be needed to cover 16-18 positions. For budgeting purposes, local funding allocations are not known until the end of May or beginning of June.
To resolve that problem, Blount said the district would be left with the option of pulling funds from the fund balance, which only depleats the funds available from year to year.
Clinton City Schools currently has $2.3 million in the fund balance, but if the district is left pulling additional funds each year to cover the cost of positions, there would not be enough to last beyond the 2019-20 school year.
“We need to start looking now at what can be done,” board chairwoman Carol Worley said. “We can see where we are now and where we don’t want to end up.”
While Blount remains optimistic when it comes to the state providing a solution to all the problems, he doesn’t recommend any local school board stop looking for their own answers.
“I am optimistic it will be better coming out of the state, but don’t put your eggs in that basket that is coming out of Raleigh,” the superintendent said.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.