Unless a new house bill is passed, Surry County Schools will have to take drastic measures to meet new state guidelines on class size.
A law passed last year goes into effect this July reducing the number of kids that a teacher can have in any one classroom.
The county school district either will need more than a million dollars more funding every year, or course offerings must be cut to conform to the state law.
The new requirements are an average of 18 students in kindergarten, 16 students in first grade, and 17 students in second and third grades. For any one class, the maximum allowed is 21 in kindergarten, 19 in first grade and 20 in second and third grade, down from 24 currently allowed.
In January Reeves said he estimated that 13 additional teachers would be needed to spread out the students. Upon examining each of the elementary schools in the district and trying to fit each one’s needs, Reeves’ estimate Monday to the county Board of Education was even higher.
It would take 17 teachers to give the proper class sizes, he told the school board. At the average cost for a teacher (salary and benefits), that would come to about $833,000. That’s at $49,000 per position.
Keeping to the same rate of teachers to teaching assistants would require hiring seven more assistants, which would cost $221,000 (about $31,500 per person in salary and benefits).
Then there is the fact that the elementary schools are already pretty full as it is, Reeves said. Buildings in Pilot Mountain and Dobson are completely filled and would require mobile classrooms.
Across the school system, Reeves said it would take nine trailers to create enough rooms.
The initial cost would be $114,381 to bring in and set up nine trailers, with an annual lease payment of $37,800. The school system would also incur indirect costs such as water and electricity usage.
In order to comply, that means the county district would have to come up with $1.2 million this summer and $37,800 each year after for leasing.
The alternative is to cut certain classes and specialty teachers in order to hire enough teachers for the core curriculum.
Reeves said he thanked the school board for always being supportive of subjects like music, art and physical education. However, if there isn’t funding provided for these new positions from kindergarten to third grade, then those nonessential subjects might have to be cut in order to have funds.
Surry County certainly isn’t alone, Reeves pointed out. Imagine how many more teachers would be needed in a more-populated county like Forsyth, Guilford, Wake or Mecklenburg.
Some relief could come in the form of a proposed law easing the restrictions. House Bill 13 already passed the state House by a vote of 114-0 and was referred to the state Senate’s Committee on Rules and Operations on Feb. 20.
HB 13 is more of a compromise between current standards and what is scheduled to go into effect in July.
With that bill, the county would still need to hire help, but only five teachers instead of 17, said Reeves. And there probably wouldn’t be any need for mobile units.
Reeves said the school district was asked to provide the state with five years’ worth of data on things like teacher count, allocations, funds for the Senate to review.
• HB 13 isn’t the only bill that could affect area schools. Several bills have been filed for school districts all across the state seeking flexibility in school scheduling.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Mount Airy, and two other House representatives have sponsored HB 121, which would provide scheduling relief for Surry, Stokes, Rockingham and Caswell counties.
Sen. Shirley Randleman has co-sponsored SB 110, a similar bill for Alleghany, Wilkes and Ashe counties. A sister bill, HB 253, has been filed in the House.
These calendar-related bills were referred to the House Committee on Education on Feb. 20.
A few years ago, local schools opened as early as Aug. 7, and this upset some lawmakers, who passed a law making all state schools wait until the Monday closest to Aug. 25 to open. In this current school year, classes didn’t start until Aug. 29, which severely hampered flexibility in case of bad weather.
This winter has been mild, but any snow or ice puts school districts in a bad spot.
Schools want to control their own calendars, or at the very least get an earlier start time under law.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.