LAURINBURG — The search is on for Scotland County to find more teachers and classrooms as a result of passage of recent legislation that lowers the student-teacher ratio for kindergarten through third grade.
Scotland County Board of Education talked about the best way to deal with class size for the next school year during Monday’s regular meeting.
With the smaller classes, Scotland County will need to hire 20 additional teachers for next school year and in order to free up classrooms music and art would be moved to carts. If state legislators pass House Bill 13 the district would only need to hire four additional teachers.
“We have a plan in place, it’s not perfect but it’s the best plan for the situation that we’re in. We’re still hoping we’ll get some relief but as it looks right now that’s not on the horizon,” Superintendent Ron Hargrave said. “It doesn’t appear there is going to be support for it in the Senate. We’re caught in the middle but we’re moving forward just in case it stays as is.”
Educators from around the state voiced concern over the additional number of teachers that would need to be hired to make the ratios possible. In response, legislators came up with a compromise in December, House Bill 13. The amended legislation increased the allowed ratio of teachers to students so that districts would not be required to hire as many additional teachers.
“We know that H.B. 13 would give us some relief in terms of the legislation that requires class sizes to be reduced and add 20 additional teachers for us — it’s an unfunded mandate as it is written,” Hargrave said. “So far that bill is in the rules committee, that’s typically where bills go to have no action taken on them unless the Senate pulls it out and addresses it we’re looking at not having anything done.”
If the legislation remains the same, without the proposed amendment, class sizes in Scotland County would be lowered from one teacher per 21 students in kindergarten through third grade to lower numbers based on grade level.
Next year the number of students per teacher will vary:
— In kindergarten, the ratio will be one teacher per 16 students, with a maximum of 19 students.
— First grade will be one teacher per 16 students with a maximum of 19 students.
— Second and third grade will be one teacher per 17 students, with a maximum of 20 students.
Jay Toland, chief finance officer for the district, broke down the number of additional teachers each school will need:
— Four additional teachers at North Laurinburg and Laurel Hill
— Three additional teachers at Covington and Sycamore Lane
— Two additional teachers at South Scotland and Wagram
— One additional teacher at I. Ellis Johnson
“We’ve met with every principal to get their plan,” Toland said. “There is two parts to this, the first is where are you going to put the additional teachers and the second is what are we going to do with the teacher assistants? In Scotland County, we fund all kindergarten and first-grade classrooms with teacher assistants, by adding 20 positions there isn’t money to add more teacher assistants. All the schools are going to have a teacher assistant in every kindergarten classrooms and if there are any leftover TAs they would float between the first-grade classrooms.”
Covington, North Laurinburg, Laurel Hill, Sycamore Lane and South Scotland will have music and art classes move onto a cart, which will be brought into the student’s homeroom in order to free up classrooms. Sycamore Lane would also have to move their computer lab onto a cart to free up the third classroom. The remaining schools are able to absorb the additional classrooms without taking away the designated art and music rooms.
Board member Rick Singletary expressed concern about eliminating art and music classrooms.
“I want to make sure that the carts won’t diminish the quality of the art and music that we’re providing students,” Singletary said.
Hargrave said the district is committed to protecting the music and art programs, but if the budgetary cuts and restrictions continue something will eventually have to be done.
“It will have an impact because you go from having a space of your own to traveling from room to room. If the general assembly continues in this direction it’s going to put us in a tough situation.” Hargrave said. “We are fortunate that we have a plan and we’ve made a commitment that we’re going to make this work. These programs are important to educate the whole child and we have to protect them.”
Board member Jamie Sutherland said Phase II of consolidation would address a number of the classroom issues the board is dealing with because a new elementary school would be built and additional classrooms would be added to some of the existing schools.
“Consolidation addresses some of the space issues that we have at some of these schools, which is the reason we’re having to put some people on carts,” said Sutherland. “If we consolidated the schools like we talked about then you make those additions and accommodate those space changes and we don’t have to put music and art on a cart, so I think we need to keep that in mind.”
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.