The Transylvania Times -

By John Lanier

Board Discusses Restrictions On Student Numbers In K-3 Grades


December 28, 2017

State restrictions on the number of students per class in kindergarten through third grade were discussed at the Transylvania County Board of Education meeting held on Monday, Dec. 18.

Nearly two years ago the state General Assembly passed a law lowering class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

The law, which did not include any funding to pay for additional teachers or classrooms, was supposed to go into effect this fall.

However, school board members, administrators, teachers and parents across the state raised concerns that the law would negatively impact schools and result in some schools cancelling their arts, music and PE classes in order to have the necessary funding to comply with the new law.

As a result, the state relaxed the proposed class size restrictions for this year, but the full restrictions are to go into place this coming school year. In addition, there has been some ambiguity as to whether or not enhancement classes – such as arts, music and PE – would fall under the new class size restrictions.

School Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris said the N.C. Department of Public Instruction had informed school systems that they could apply for waivers for these “enhancement” classes, but they did not receive the instructions until Nov. 29 and the waiver had to be filed the next day.

McDaris said the waiver was filed, but that he informed the Department of Public Instruction that the waiver had not been approved by the school board.

The board unanimously ratified the request for the class size waiver on enhancement classes at the Dec. 18 meeting.

That, however, did not allay administrators or school board members concerns about the class size reduction mandate and its potential impact for the next school year.

Brian Weaver, senior director of human resources, said that currently an individual class may have three more students than the limit as long as the average class size throughout the district in K-3 classes meets the size mandate.

But if that mandate is applied to PE classes, Weaver said that would create problems because most elementary PE classes consist of two regular classes being combined for PE instruction.

Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi said that if enhancement classes fall under the cap, then each elementary school would have to hire at least one more PE teacher.

Board member Marty Griffin asked how many new teachers the school system would need if the mandate goes into effect.

Weaver said the modified cap this year is an average of 20 students per class. Next year, the cap would be an average of 18 for kindergarten, 16 for first grade, and 17 for second and third grade.

“You can still have the plus three, but those have to be your district ratios,” said Weaver.

Weaver said it is very challenging to accurately predict the number of students who will enroll in kindergarten, but at this time he estimates the school system would need to add six more teachers.

Griffin then asked if the teachers would have to be locally funded.

McDaris said they would. However, if some teachers at the high school or middle school level retire, then the school system could choose to replace those teachers with K-3 teachers and increase the class sizes in the high schools and middle schools.

Kiviniemi said his fear is that since no teacher-student ratios are applied to grades 4-12, class sizes in those grades will skyrocket.

He said the school board could not realistically ask the county commissioners for more money, so the only solution might be to increase class size at the upper grades.

School board member Alice Wellborn said they only had two options if the mandate is fully implemented and not funded by the state – ask for more local funding or increase class size in middle and high school.

Griffin wondered why the General Assembly thinks it is so important to have smaller classes at the elementary level but thinks it is all right to increase class sizes at the middle and high schools.

As a former high school teacher, Griffin said it was better to have 16 students than 28 students in a civics class.

McDaris said the issue goes back to his belief that state legislators do not have an in-depth understanding of school finances.

McDaris also said he did not understand why the state believes smaller class sizes need to be mandatory but charter schools can have as many students as they want in a class.

“Charters are exempt from this (mandate),” said McDaris. “That makes no sense to me, but they’re exempt from this.”

Kiviniemi said private schools that receive vouchers from the state for low-income students also are exempt.

McDaris said the situation could become more complicated if the General Assembly often does not approve its budget until after the local systems and county commissioners approve their budgets for the upcoming year.

McDaris also said that if the state makes a final decision on the budget or the class size mandate after June, it creates a hiring problem because many teachers are hired in June and local funding is already set.

“Competition is very tight,” McDaris said of teachers.

He said the competition for quality teachers has increased because fewer people are going into teaching as a profession and other states may offer better financial packages.

Board member Betty Scruggs McGaha encouraged parents to make phone calls and send emails to their legislators.

She said no parent wants to send their child to an elementary school that does not offer arts, music or PE, nor do they want to send their child to a middle school with 35 students in each class.

McDaris said he has had some “good conversations” with State Sen. Chuck Edwards and State Rep. Cody Henson about the mandate.

“I think there are some positives there,” said McDaris.


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