With impending legislation limiting elementary class sizes, local school leaders believe the mandate may create challenges when it comes to needed teachers and facilities.
During a Tuesday work session, the Sampson County Schools (SCS) Board of Education and district officials discussed House Bill 13, which proposes a set number of students in K-3 classrooms. Dr. Wendy Cabral, assistant superintendent of personnel services, made a presentation about the bill.
According to current estimates, SCS would need 30 more teachers. She said that comes with issues involving funding and teacher positions, which could cost more than $1.5 million.
“Where are we going to find them? Where are we going to put them?” Cabral questioned.
Before HB 13, teachers were allotted to districts using certain formulas. At the kindergarten level, it’s one teacher for 18 students and 16 students for a single first-grade teacher. For second and third grades, it’s 17 students per teacher. But a key point made was that the average class size could be 21 for K-3 classrooms, with a max of 24.
“You get to take those teachers that are left over and teach music, art and PE,” Cabral said. “That’s how we fund those positions. When it says 1 to 18, it doesn’t mean one kindergarten teacher per home room. It’s just means on average per school. That’s how we make those positions happen.”
For the current school year, districts received a reprieve with similar ratios, but going forward in the 2018-2019 school year, Cabral said those numbers become “hard maximums.”
“You will have 18 students in every kindergarten class,” she said about the upcoming regulation.
As an example, she stressed that if a kindergarten class has 19 students, the school has to hire another teacher. She questioned how the district would fund other positions. Using K-3 numbers from Union Elementary School, Cabral reported that it needs 32 teachers to meet requirements for HB 13 legislation next school year. That’s an increase of four and a half positions from current amount, which is close 28.
If finalized, Cabral and board members questioned what kind of needs they’ll have for facilities in the future.
“Legislators will meet and there’s an opportunity to see some changes to this,” Cabral said about HB 13.
But in the meantime, she said the biggest challenge is facilities, which will not be funded by the state.
Another concern was enhancement classes such as art and music. Cabral said those type of classes produces well-rounded students and great citizens. There’s talk about a separate pot of funding for those positions.
“Of course, we haven’t seen any of that happen yet,” she said.
Board Member Telfair Simpson added that many lawmakers made promises during the election to reduce class sizes. After Board member Mary Brown questioned if there was any research behind the rationale, Simpson alluded to how smaller class sizes are good for learning purposes. But it puts financial stress on school systems. Chairman Timothy Register said a lot of it involves politics and the idea of districts diverting funds.
“They say they’ve been reducing class sizes every year and yet we use the money for extra positions,” Register said. “So this another example of legislature trying to come down and control schools and the school building at the local level, instead of doing what’s best for our kids.”
SCS Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy said many district leaders would be in favor of smaller class sizes, but to have a mandate with no funds for facilities is an issue. When it comes to hiring more teachers, Finance Officer Stephen Britt said it could cost between $1.5 million to $1.8 million.
Cabral added that it could be a problem with a decrease of eligible classroom teachers. She said there’s a little bit of increase this in the university system for teaching, but bringing them to Sampson’s smaller and rural district, will be a challenge. Another option is the lateral entry program from the North Carolina Department of Instruction. It allows qualified individuals to obtain a teaching job and work right away, while they earn an educator’s license.
With Britt, Bracy said they’ll meet with county finance leaders down the road to make them aware about the issues.
“This is definitely at the top of our agenda,” Bracy said. “If no additional funding comes from the state, we’ll have no choice but to look locally for help and support.”