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Teachers call on lawmakers to relax class size requirements

Posted April 19
Updated April 20

— Teachers worried that they could lose their job as a result of a law intended to lower class sizes in kindergarten through third grade rallied Wednesday afternoon outside the state Legislative Building.

Several hundred protesters at the rally said they are not against smaller class sizes, but organizers said that a provision in the 2016-17 state budget that requires smaller class sizes beginning in the 2017-18 school year will have unintended consequences that will hurt school districts across the state.

Creating more classrooms for students in kindergarten through third grade in compliance with the law means other subjects may need to be eliminated.

On Tuesday, Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill said the legislation could lead to layoffs in his school system. Specialty teachers, who teach subjects including physical education, art and dance, would be most affected.

“There is anxiety there because we love our jobs. I’ve got 22 years in with the state and it’s very important and there is anxiety,” said music teacher Paula Clark. "Think about the children and just what you would be taking away from these kids."

Wednesday’s rally, sponsored by a group called Save Our Schools, called on state lawmakers to pass House Bill 13, which would relax some of the smaller classroom size requirements.

The bill would allow school districts’ average class size to exceed caps by up to three students and allow individual classrooms to go over by up to six students, if needed.

Parents who brought their children to the rally are concerned about the impact if House Bill 13 is not passed.

"Sports, PE, art are part of a rounded education," said parent Sandra Turner.

In Wake County, school leaders said the passage of House Bill 13 could save about $24 million.

Protesters pointed out that the consequences of the bill also have a human factor, as many teachers of specialty courses are unsure if they will have a job next year. Many have already begun looking for alternative work.

House Bill 13 is currently stalled in the Senate, but Gov. Roy Cooper said he supports the measure.

"We have to make sure that it's provided for in the budget if we believe that's an important thing. So, some of these actions that some of these local school systems may have to take are really unacceptable," he said.

Senate leaders said House Bill 13 has stalled because they want more assurances on where school money is being spent.

Senate leaders said they're working on a plan that could separate funding for classroom reduction and money for other teachers. Leaders envision a bill that provides class size flexibility with added transparency.

"They need to know that we know where they're using the positions, so you'll see some accountability built into what we do. You will see, I believe, enough flexibility for them to go and make plans without having to release anybody who's presently under contract," Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) said.

Tillman, a retired school administrator, agreed schools need answers soon to plan their budgets. He predicts lawmakers will reach a class size agreement in one to two weeks.

"I think we will make it a plan where they can live with it and be fairly happy with what we do," he said.

6 Comments

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  • George Orwell Apr 20, 2:07 p.m.
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    An alternative to reducing class sizes is dealing with disruptive students. I grew up in NC schools and class sizes were always 30 or more but we all learned. If we were disruptive, the teacher could paddle as well as the principals if necessary. And God help you if they called your father or mother down to the school to discipline you. That was the 1970s in NC schools. Today I have my masters in electrical engineering and a good life thanks to my parents and teachers that cared. Sometimes hard love is needed.

  • Travis Perry Apr 20, 1:45 p.m.
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    Way to many positions are funded in schools that do not directly go towards teaching students. Ex. curriculum coaches and C and I instructors. These are people that get paid as teachers but are not in the classroom. They have others duties at school that usually involve administrative duties. They are never in a classroom and never actually teach. Yet almost every school has at least on if not one of each. Bloated central office staffs is other problem. Every county I have been to, the central office staffs always increases, even if money is cut or teachers are cut.

  • Matt Smithe Apr 20, 11:13 a.m.
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    Thank you for your insight and work in such an important profession. I wish that these matters could be freely discussed without it immediately devolving into an ad hominem attack against anyone critical of the education system as if they are anti-teacher, whatever that means. I want nothing more than to have a strong, vibrant, and effective education system. I think it should be obvious to any thinking and rational person that blindly dumping more money into the system doesn't work. What are your thoughts, as someone in the system, as to what reforms are needed to make positive changes.

  • Travis Perry Apr 20, 10:16 a.m.
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    That is one of the main problems with school budgets. Money is not spent wisely. I have been in education for almost 20 years and it has always been a problem. There is plenty of money to pay teachers and to fund enough teachers, but it is spent on positions and resources that have no direct impact on actual learning.

  • William James Apr 20, 9:37 a.m.
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    I understand the teachers concerns, but education needs to progress into the current century and job market expectations. Music, PE, Art are important, but its the lack of math, reading, and technology skills that are preventing our kids from being competitive in today's job market. Its silly to concentrate so much of our resources to art, music, and PE when less than 1 in 1,000 kids will ever use this to transition into an actual profession. Just think, if our kids spent those hours studying IT, advanced math, biology, chemistry or learning a Trade.

  • Matt Smithe Apr 20, 8:02 a.m.
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    It is always interesting to me that when the talk of school budgets come up it is never discussed whether schools are using what they already receive efficiently. I would personally be more sympathetic to these requests for additional funding or protests against funding cuts/additional mandates if I believed that they were already striving to make the most of what they have. Instead the continue shoving money at administrative bloat and half baked technology implementations.