LAURINBURG — School officials are breathing easier as they learned the state lawmakers won’t reduce elementary class sizes this year.
Scotland County Schools Superintendent Ron Hargrave informed the board during a meeting this week that the General Assembly now plans to slowly phase in the K-3 class size reductions over the next four years, as opposed to fully implementing the unfunded mandate at the beginning of 2018-19 school year.
The change comes after school officials from around the state said they lacked extra classrooms or money to hire the additional K-3 teachers that would have been required.
Scotland County would have needed to hire 19 additional teachers at a price tag of $1 million for next school year — a cost that the district would have to fund on its own — since the legislation failed to provide additional money from the state.
“We have been asking the Generally Assembly to go back and take a look at the legislation because it is very difficult for districts across this state to find the number of teaches we would have needed to meet that law,” Hargrave said.
Class sizes will remain the same for the 2018-19 school year, with reductions beginning 2019-20, with the full class-size reductions being phased in through the 2021-22 school year.
“We’ve looked at some numbers to see how that would continue to impact us and with consolidation if our enrollment holds as is, that would reduce the number of needed teachers to 16 over the next four years,” Hargrave said. “It’s still a large number of teachers, but it does allow us to phase them in.”
Lawmakers also included $61 million a year in additional funds to help school districts pay for art, music and physical education teachers.
“For us it won’t come in terms of dollars it will come in terms of positions and that money equals out to 4.2 positions that we would gain in terms of our enhancement teachers,” said Hargrave.
School districts have been clamoring for quick action on the K-3 class size issue because they’re planning budgets for the 2018-19 school year. Parents and educators said it would be too late if lawmakers wait until the short session in May to act on the issue.
Starting in July, Scotland would have been required to drop its average class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to roughly 17 students. The average was 21 students last school year.
The number of students per teacher ratio will vary depending on grade level:
— 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.
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.