Schools officials got what they wanted this week when House Bill 13 passed the state Senate.
City and county school districts have had their fingers crossed for a couple of months that the General Assembly would pass the bill, which lessens the impact of a past law on classroom sizes.
A law that was set to go into effect for the fall school year would have reduced the number of children per classroom for grades kindergarten to third.
Local educators believed the law went too far and would create serious problems for the schools to accommodate the sizes. Elementary schools would have to add new teachers and assistants to spread the children around; and these new teachers would need classrooms, which some campuses don’t have to spare.
General Statute 115C-301 says that the funded class size allotment ratios for kindergarten through third grade, beginning with the 2017-18 school year, would be as follows:
(1) For kindergarten, one teacher per 18 students.
(2) For first grade, one teacher per 16 students.
(3) For second grade, one teacher per 17 students.
(4) For third grade, one teacher per 17 students.
By Feb. 1 annually, local boards of education, through the superintendent, must report all exceptions to individual class size maximums in kindergarten through third grade that occur at that time.
The law “requires local boards of education to report exceptions to class size requirements … and request allotment adjustments and waivers from class size requirements.”
HB 13 was meant to reduce the class size currently allowable, but not as far as G.S. 115C-301. For example, the average class size for first grade would drop from 21 to 19, but not to 16.
The bill received tremendous support in the state House, passing 114-0, but what was passed by the Senate this week was quite different.
For the 2017-18 school year, the average class size for kindergarten through third grade could not exceed 20 students, with a maximum of 23 students in any one class.
“For the 2018-2019 school year and thereafter, the class size requirements in G.S. 115C 301 would apply.”
That statement seems to imply that HB 13 is only a one-year reprieve and not a final compromise.
“If the State Superintendent of Public Instruction found the local board continued to exceed class size requirements, the State Board could impose the penalty of withholding funds for the local superintendent’s salary until compliance was achieved.”
In early March, Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent of Surry County Schools, said that G.S. 115C-301 would force his district to hire 17 teachers for the kindergarten to third-grade levels. He estimated that cost at $833,000 per year.
Then with seven teacher assistants to spread around, that would be another $221,000.
Without room to hold these extra classrooms, the district would have to lease mobile classrooms. 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.
If the House version of HB 13 had been approved, Reeves said the trailers likely wouldn’t be necessary, and the number of new teachers needed would be five instead of 17.
This revised version of HB 13 could have a big impact on schools and funding.
When reached Friday, Reeves responded by phone, “I am in Raleigh at a law conference with my school board.” He wasn’t able to reply about HB 13.
Dr. Kim Morrison, city school superintendent, wasn’t available. Reeves said he believed that Morrison also was out of town at a meeting.
Mount Airy, Surry County and Elkin school districts already have made their annual budget request to the Surry County Board of Commissioners. It is unclear at this time what impact the General Assembly’s decision will have on local funding.
To see HB 13, click here http://bit.ly/2oWIfTI.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.