North Carolina superintendents who are part of the Southeast Education Alliance met last week to discuss the legislation that will require schools to make steep cuts in class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.
Both Clinton City Schools superintendent Dr. Stuart Blount and Sampson County Schools superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy attended the meeting, held in Jacksonville, to discuss the current K-3 class size legislation set to take effect 2017-18 and the HB-13 class size requirement that would reinstate flexibility needed across school districts.
“The roundtable provided the opportunity to hear and learn about the regional challenges that we are going to be facing,” Blount shared. “The meeting concluded with the Southeast Regional superintendents in consensus of smaller class sizes, but are uncertain about the logistics of how this law will be implemented due to the number of additional teachers needing to be hired, and the additional classroom space needed for those teachers.”
According to the bill, the average class size for kindergarten through third grade will not exceed the funded allotment ratio of teachers to students in those grades by more than three students. The maximum class size for each grades is as follows: kindergarten, one teacher per 18 students; first grade, one teacher per 16 students; second grade, one teacher per 17 students; and third grade, one teacher per 17 students.
During last week’s discussion, superintendents shared the impacts that each district would face if the loss of flexibility goes into effect, most specifically around class sizes at grades 4-12, educational programs not currently allotted by the legislation including arts education and physical education, lack of facilities for additional classrooms, and teacher recruitment challenges.
“I feel the meeting went well,” Bracy said. “I began my comments by stating that each superintendent in the room supports smaller class sizes, however this appears to be an unfunded mandate. I am very much concerned with the effect on our class sizes and arts programs if HB-13 is not passed by the senate.”
According to Blount, the legislation will require Clinton City Schools to hire an additional four to six teachers. The impact from the 12 districts included in the region included over 450 teachers and classroom spaces to accommodate the changes. Some of these districts are already challenged by growing enrollments and needed facilities.
Based on last week’s discussion, 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.
If local systems are forced to cut positions to find funds for additional classroom teachers, local officials are concerned the cut will come from positions like art and music. That is something both Bracy or Blount have said they don’t want to do.
“We know that student success is dependent upon having high quality teachers in every classroom, while keeping class sizes as low as possible,” Blount said. ” In the K-3 grade span, it is equally important to expose students to the extracurricular subjects such as art and music, while continuing to have teacher assistants in the classroom for instructional support.”
While superintendents have shared their support and welcome a feasible way to accommodate smaller class sizes, the unintended consequences to this recent legislation has the potential to negatively impact schools and students. The current HB-13 that has passed through the NC House will allow school districts to use flexibility in their schools based on existing programs and current priorities.
The Southeast Education Alliance has stated it will continue to work collaboratively to help school districts identify possible strategies to assist in addressing the current legislation. Additional work will follow around emergency teacher licensure, military student mobility, public information sharing, and timelines for stakeholder communications.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.