State law could cost local school jobs

By Eva Winemiller -

Some school employees could lose their jobs if requirements for class size do not change before the 2017-18 school year.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law to reduce the number of students in each classroom for kindergarten to third grade, beginning this fall.

However, the state did not provide additional funding for new teachers so that the students could be spread around, according to Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent for Surry County Schools.

“We hope this was an oversight,” said Reeves. He said his district would have to make some major changes to be able to reduce class sizes to fit the new 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.

If students are spread out, wouldn’t that require more school employees, not less? Without any additional money for teacher salaries, someone else might have to face the axe.

To make the new class sizes work, Mount Airy City Schools would have to cut five positions in order to hire additional core teachers.

“The new law allows for no wiggle room,” said Dr. Kim Morrison, superintendent for Mount Airy City Schools.

“The issue for us is, that there is no flexibility in funding.” Since there is no flexibility the funding for the additional positions needed would have to be reallocated from positions in departments like art, music and physical education, according to Morrison.

For Surry County Schools, “We would need to hire 13 teachers, five teacher assistants and we would need nine classrooms,” stated Reeves.

Additionally, space has proven to be an issue for both school systems. County schools would need to bring in mobile units, according to Reeves.

Bringing in mobile units are large cost for the school system, explained Reeves, costing initially $114,381 with an annual lease payment of $37,800. The school system would also incur indirect costs not included in those figures such as water and electricity.

Morrison, said the city schools would have to clean out storage spaces and use rooms that are designated for other purposes as classrooms.

Both school systems have reached out to state level representative to hopefully allow the flexibility to move funds to offer teachers in departments like art, music and physical education.

“We believe in a whole child development approach,” said Morrison. “When your cutting those departments, your taking away motivation for a lot of children to come to school, and that’s what the lawmakers don’t understand.”

Some state lawmakers are getting the message as a new bill filed this week could ease the requirements.

House Bill 13, sponsored by Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville) on Wednesday, would put the average limit at 22 to 24 students (depending on the grade level) with a maximum in any class of 19 to 21 students.

Considering that the local districts need to work on their annual budgets in the coming months, educators are hoping for a quick ratification of the bill.

Arts, music, PE could be affected

By Eva Winemiller

Reach Eva Winemiller at (336) 415-4739 or on Twitter @ReporterEva

Reach Eva Winemiller at (336) 415-4739 or on Twitter @ReporterEva