MACS feeling effects of HB 13

By Jeff Linville -

Mount Airy City Schools may have to do some creative juggling to meet class-size requirements.

The state sets limits for how many students can be in classes. Those limits have been lowered in the past two years for kindergarten through third grade, and the city’s third grade class could be over the new limits, according to the city school superintendent.

For the 2017-18 school year, House Bill 13 dictates that the average class size for kindergarten through third grade cannot exceed 20 students, with a maximum of 23 students in any one class.

For the 2018-19 school year, General Statute 115C-301 says the limits drop again:

(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.

At a recent work session for the city Board of Education, Dr. Kim Morrison presented some preliminary data on student enrollment.

These numbers aren’t official yet, said the district superintendent. There are children who might have registered for class, but never showed up, she advised. This tends to happen most frequently at the kindergarten level.

Based off the number of no-shows from the first week of school, it looks like the four campuses will have 19 students cut from the books when the eleventh day of school allows drops, Morrison said.

Still, with an influx of kids this year, the district will still be up overall.

B.H. Tharrington is up 25 students from last year (346 to 321).

J.J. Jones Intermediate School lost a big class to the middle school, so its number went down slightly, while the middle school went up some, she said. She said Jones was down nine (394 from 403) while the middle school was up 13 to 362. The high school showed the biggest growth at 31 extra students at 539 from 508.

Even with the predicted 19 drops on the eleventh day, the city system could still be up about 40 students compare to a year ago.

School attendance, or average daily membership as the state calls it, can vary quite a bit from year to year.

Morrison said that rural counties like Surry tend to have residents who move around a lot. When a high percentage of students are on free or reduced-price meals, the families tend to be more transitory, she said. They are more likely to rent than buy, and they can move more often — which can shift the kids in and out of districts.

Every year the city loses and gains students from the county. Morrison said 24 students who were in the city last year are in Surry County Schools this time; but, she added, more than that have come into the city, so the net exchange is a positive figure.

There also have been some home-schooled children joining the district, she added.

Back in the spring, Morrison went before the Surry County Board of Commissioners to try to convince the officials to keep school funding the same rather than let it dip because school ADM was slightly lower in 2016-17 than the year before. If funding had dropped because of last year’s numbers, then the district would have been hurting with the bump back up this year.

Looking at how the city stands with HB13, Morrison said kindergarten, first and third grades should be fine, but second grade could be slightly over that 20-student average. That depends on how many no-show drops come off the books, she pointed out.

There is a possibility that the district will have to come up with one more educator for that grade level — without any additional funding from the state to hire someone.

This could be a challenge come the next school board meeting in two weeks, said Morrison, so she wanted to give the members a head’s up now. Without additional funding from the state, and a tight budget overall, the school system might have to bounce around a few solutions before acting.

If something has to be done, it’s better to act sooner than later, believed Wendy Carriker, board chair.

Board member Tim Matthews agreed, recalling an occasion eight or nine years ago where another class was added after the school year had started. A handful of students were plucked from each existing classroom to create a new class, which pulled kids away from friends.

The longer the wait to make such a decision, the more disruptive it would be for the children, said Carriker.

The school board will hold its next business meeting Sept. 19 at Mount Airy High School.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

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