LCPS officials asked for more flexibility in determining workable class sizes and the best configuration for school calendars on Monday at its annual Legislative Breakfast when the school district hosted state lawmakers who represent Lenoir County.
Attending were state Reps. John Bell, R-Wayne, and George Graham, D-Lenoir, and state Sens. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, and Don Davis, D-Greene, along with county officials, local mayors and members of the Lenoir County Board of Education.
Superintendent Brent Williams thanked legislators for their help after the flooding left by Hurricane Matthew, when the General Assembly agreed to forgive all but two lost school days, and for the work they’ve already done this session on issues affecting public education. However, some sticky issues remain, he said, with the cap on the number of students in K-3 classrooms among the most vexing.
“Right now, we have no answer for that. I don’t think any school system does,” he said.
The law passed last year puts a rigid limit on the size of classes in those early grades – a district average of 18 for kindergarten, 16 for first grade and 17 for grades two and three. Hiring additional teachers to meet that standard would cost LCPS $1.6 million next fiscal year. Shuffling personnel to teach additional K-3 classrooms would affect 25 positions and could cost the jobs of some teachers whose salaries are paid from local funds.
The state House has already passed HB13, a bill that would restore to school districts some flexibility in determining class size, but it is currently on hold in a Senate committee.
“We’ll meet any challenge before us, but it’s one that’s going to be very difficult and injurious to kids at schools to meet,” Williams said.
“All we’re asking today is that you consider that and that you talk to us, talk to us about the impact,” he said.
The House has also approved a bill that gives school districts relief from the state-mandated formula that shapes school calendar, but it is held up in the Senate.
Williams reminded legislators that the current law – school can begin no earlier than the first Monday after Aug. 26 – means first-semester exams are separated from first-semester class time by the Christmas holiday and ensures public school calendars at odds with community college calendars, a problem in a system like LCPS which has a large number of students enrolled simultaneously in both schools.
“A perfect wording for us,” Williams said, “would be to allow our schedule to match the community college’s.”
The superintendent also pushed for a refiguring of the formula that determines school accountability grades, expressing hope that more weight would be given student academic growth. “Growth should be considered at least on a par with proficiency,” Williams said, reflecting sentiment in both the House and Senate for a formula that gives equal credit to the results of standardized tests and to growth as reflect in those test scores.
Both Jon Sargeant, chair of the Lenoir County Board of Education, and Craig Hill, chair of the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners, made a pitch to legislators for more state help in meeting capital needs, such as maintenance and construction of school facilities.
All state revenue allocated to LCPS for construction, either through half-cent sales tax revenue or lottery revenue, goes to help the county pay off school bond debt; and the county’s own allocation is swallowed up by maintenance and replacement needs.
Considering the age of LCPS schools and mounting maintenance needs, Sargeant summarized the situation as “a train wreck” unless the state provides district with more building money.