Class size law could lead to WCPSS teacher layoffs, eliminated classes
Posted April 18
Updated April 19
Cary, N.C. — Wake County school Superintendent Jim Merrill said Tuesday the future doesn’t look bright because of legislation calling for smaller class sizes.
A provision in the 2016-17 state budget requires smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade beginning in the 2017-18 school year, but Merrill said meeting those requirements would require hundreds more teachers and millions of dollars.
Merrill said options to meet the new requirements include laying off teachers in classes like art, music, drama, physical education and dance. Currently, the district employs more than 350 teachers for those subjects.
"Our students deserve art, music, physical education and language classes taught by specialized educators," said Rahnesia Best with Wake NCAE>
Other options include eliminating those classes entirely or increasing class sizes in higher grades.
Republican state lawmakers said school districts have been funded to reduce class sizes but Merrill said that’s not the case, pointing to funding cuts in past years.
So far, no final decisions on what to do have been made.
“No solutions today, merely the enormity of the potential disruption within multiple options,” Merrill said. “I’m going to just put a lot of numbers out there, and you’ll see it’s at least a three-dimensional Gordian knot.”
House Bill 13 could relax the impending class size requirements, allowing school districts’ average class size to exceed caps by up to three students and allows individual classrooms to go over by up to six students, if needed.
Merrill said the bill would lower the cost of the class size law from $26 million to less than $2 million.
"I think the genuinely want to help us out, so I am still optimistic about that," he said.
The proposal passed in the House but is stalled in the Senate. Lawmakers said they will likely not take up the bill until they have released a budget.
Without House Bill 13, Merrill said he doesn't like his options.
"Almost any one of these has major impact and disruption in the school system, either in the human factor or in the financial factor. So, I think part of what administration always has to be able to do is contemplate as many solutions as possible and then folks start analyzing," he said. "They're tough to come up with, I don't really like any of them, but I'm afraid we're going to have to employ some portions of those."