There may be a change in class sizes for kindergarten through third graders this upcoming 2017-2018 school year.

A state mandate expected to be discussed in the North Carolina General Assembly this week would allow an allotment ratio of one teacher per 18 students in kindergarten. For first grade, one teacher for 16 students, and for second and third grades, one teacher per 17 students. Currently school districts are permitted to exceed the allotted ratios to a modest degree allowing for provision of art, music and physical education teachers, none of which are supported by any other designated state funding streams.

The implications could require 24 to 29 additional classroom teachers and cost 1.6 million dollars in salaries and benefits.

Melisa Jessup, Executive Director of Human Resources explained at Monday’s school board meeting it could negatively impact six physical education teachers and six music teachers in the elementary span.

The ripple effect would also create a demand for more classroom space. To meet the state-mandated requirements, local districts will be compelled to possibly convert art, music, technology and other encore rooms to traditional classrooms or add additional modular classrooms which would require additional funding. Class sizes would likely increase in grades four through 12 because there is no cap on the pupil-teacher ratio.

Jessup said given the significant potential fiscal impact, it will be critically important that the General Assembly review the mandate immediately after the opening of the 2017 session.

“Given that the county commissioners act on their local budget by June 30, this is not a decision that can be delayed until the General Assembly’s customary resolution of its own budget process in later summer or early fall. House Bill 13 has been introduced by the General Assembly and they need to review the impact of section 8.33 before the board of education presents their budget proposal to the county commissioners by May 15.”

Stokes Superintendent, Dr. Brad Rice said he was part of a conference call on Friday which included other local superintendents who spoke with leadership of the General Assembly.

“I was encouraged,” he said. “Nothing was said about getting relief, but they understand the predicament we are in and they also understand the time crunch. There were no promises, but the conversation was promising.”

Rice added, “We wanted you to know about it. If it does happen we’ll have some tough decisions to make this spring.”

Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.

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