I-SS making plans to comply with state's new class-size mandate
BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell-Statesville Schools officials aren’t objecting to the state’s smaller class size mandate, but they have some “serious concerns” about the costs associated with requirement, which is scheduled to take effect for the 2018-2019 school year.
The mandated teacher-to-student ratio will be 1:18 for kindergarten; 1:16 for first grade; and 1:17 for second and third grade classrooms.
“We certainly applaud the efforts of the General Assembly to reduce classes in North Carolina,” Superintendent Brady Johnson said. “We want to make sure we are doing all we possibly can to comply with their expectations and give them the documentation they need.”
Under the new law, I-SS will have to hire 48.5 teachers, which will cost the district about $2.9 million, according to Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Alvera Lesane.
In addition to hiring new teachers, the district will be competing for the same teachers with adjacent counties forced to meet the same mandate at a time when there is a shortage of teachers.
The General Assembly is not providing funding for the new positions, meaning either local governments will have to increase funding or school districts will have to make cuts in other areas.
“When you draw absolutes and there’s no flexibility, it’s hard to comply with those absolutes. We’ve been forced to use combo classes and no one’s really excited about that. It’s the only way we could make the numbers work,” Johnson explained.
This school year, in preparation for the 2018-2019 school year, a dozen combo classes are being offered at some schools. A combo class combines two grade levels, such as fourth and fifth grades, into one classroom, taught by the same teacher.
This is not an ideal solution, Johnson said, and I-SS principals have tried to avoid the practice, but it’s been unavoidable in some cases.
The district would also look at making cuts to some of their offerings in middle and high school to balance the budget.
Among the other concerns are classroom space. At some of the larger schools, there isn’t enough physical classroom space to comply with the law.
The state has not provided funding for additional classrooms either.
“The biggest concern we have is we don’t think that everybody really understood how the teacher allotment formula also funded our enhancement teachers for us,” Johnson explained.
Enhancements are classes such as, PE, art and music.
During the 2016-2017 school year, the district needed 250 teachers to meet class-size requirements for elementary grades. Once that total was figured out, then the rest of the state allotment could go toward funding 62 enhancement teacher positions for elementary grades.
This school year, the formula to figure out enhancement teachers dipped down to 48.5 enhancement positions; however, the district hired 55 enhancement teachers this year for elementary grades.
Based on the allotment formula for next year, there will not be any additional state allotted money left over to fund enhancement teachers for elementary grades.
Lawmakers have added a provision or choice wording that says they have intentions to help school districts with funding enhancement teachers, Lesane explained.
“If that is addressed in the spring, what does it look like?” Lesane asked. “Where would that money come from … what sacrifices would we have to make?”
Lesane described a situation in which a principal had one student enroll in October. While the principal was excited to receive an additional student at his/her school, there was also some stress because it pushed the class size over the 23-capacity limit.
The principal had to break up an established class in order to fulfill the law, which Johnson called “the unintended consequences.”
“The principal is thinking about the impact on the kids in the classroom. The principal is also thinking about the kid that’s walked in the door that has to think I’m kid No. 24,” Lesane said.
“You have to figure out if you are going to hire a teacher or create a combo class. There’s not a lot of viable options for hiring a teacher in October,” she added.
Lesane explained that she, along with the principals, are closely counting the number of students in each classroom at each school because if any rules are bent or broken, then the superintendent can be charged with a misdemeanor.
“It’s just really high stakes,” Johnson said.
Lesane also mentioned that I-SS has worked to set itself apart by allowing parents the option of sending their child to any school of their choice within the district. In other words, they aren’t confined to attend school based on their residence if a parent can provide transportation.
The new law may infringe, in some situations, on this option, which the principals have worked hard to offer, Lesane said.