01/26/18 — Board revisits class size mandate

View Archive

Board revisits class size mandate

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 26, 2018 5:50 AM

Full Size


State Sen. Don Davis, left, and Wayne County Commissioners Joe Daughtery, center, and John Bell laugh during the board's Thursday budget planning retreat at Lane Tree Golf Club.

State lawmakers are passing legislation, such as the one reducing classroom size, without thinking through what the economic impact will be, Wayne County commissioners said during a board planning retreat Thursday.

For some lawmakers it is a "feel good thing" they act on without thinking of its ripple effect, County Manager Craig Honeycutt said.

Those comments set the stage for the board's meeting with state Sen. Don Davis, who attended the planning retreat at Lane Tree Golf Club.

Other local legislators were unable to attend the meeting.

The new legislation sets limits on the number of students per certified teacher in a classroom, and according to the school system, the county will need to accommodate 500 students because of that.

It has been estimated that adding the 50 new teachers that would be, the cost of a new school and its operating cost would be about $4.1 million during the first year.

Muddying the financial waters even more is the loss of low-wealth funding that will cost the county nearly $2 million annually.

Commissioner Joe Gurley said he thinks low-wealth funding is the more-immediate issue for the county.

"We were left out of the population count last year," he said. "But we were able to recover one year of funding. This year in '18-19 fiscal year that shortfall will be here again."

Help in figuring out how to recover the money would be greatly appreciated, he said.

The county lost the funding because its tax rate did not meet the threshold to receive the money.

Local legislators were able to get the $2 million for 2017-18 into the new state budget, but not for 2018-19, which means the county will have to absorb a $2 million shortfall beginning next year.

The long-term fix is to change the wording in a state formula that exempts counties with military bases and a student population of at least 23,000 from the low-wealth formula.

Currently that applies only to Cumberland County, home of Fort Bragg, and Onslow County, home of Camp Lejeune.

The goal is to reduce the student population threshold to 17,000 students instead of 23,000 that Wayne County would be exempt from the low-wealth formula.

"I think it is safe to say that, on behalf of the delegation, I don't know anyone in the delegation who is not supporting this and who is not willing to push these two items in particular," Davis said. "Truly, I can say we have been in communication with each other on these issues in particular.

"The two that I clearly want to outline would be the impact of the reduction in class size on Wayne County as well as low wealth."

Davis said he believes all of the local legislative delegation understand the importance, the significance and implications if they do not do something.

There has been some past movement in the House, he said.

"We are going to have to continue work on the Senate side, reaching out to colleagues to really try and move on this issue," Davis said.

Davis said lawmakers also understand that the mandate will take effect before counties are fully prepared to satisfy its requirements.

"We are going to have to look at some remedies in the short session," he said. "What might that look like, some of the discussion obviously is if we are going to pay for at least the reduction in classroom size.

"We are talking about this, and we are still trying to have clear figures, but my understanding -- statewide just to pay the teachers required to fulfill that reduction -- we are talking upward to $300 million plus. That is a big, high-dollar item there."

Davis said if lawmakers are not going to fully fund the reduction, then he would like to see legislators to continue advocating for flexibility on class-size reduction.

Commissioner John Bell said the $300 million mentioned by Davis does not include the cost of new schools.

Bell said he would like to see legislators look at using that money to provide better teacher pay. It is difficult to hire and retain teachers now, he said.

"Senator, what can we do to help you, especially on the state issue of classroom size?" Honeycutt said.

He also asked what the county do to help on moving the low wealth issue forward as well.

Talk about the implication of having to bring in more mobile classrooms, Davis said.

"Continue to help us to paint the picture and to tell the story in terms of if we (legislators) do not do anything, this is the impact," he said. "This is the impact. This is the implication. I do not believe that we should have as a long-term strategy, and I think this is even more important, to keep kids in trailers.

"We already are having some challenges hiring teachers and now we are talking about having to hire even more. So when we can tell those stories, and say this is what is going to happen in our district if we don't do something, it really empowers us as legislators to have the conversations with our colleagues. That would be the most important thing that I would encourage everyone continue to do -- tell us."

Commissioner Ray Mayo asked if legislators were getting pushback from commissioners and boards of education in other counties on classroom size.

Mayo also asked if it would be appropriate for commissioners to adopt a resolution opposing the mandate.

A resolution would be in order and would send a strong message, Davis said.

Davis said lawmakers have received thousands of emails.

They are hearing from parents, elected officials from across the state, and some have even been coming to lawmakers' offices in Raleigh, he said.

"Believe me, the county is not alone on this issue," he said. "A lot of people have been leaning on us, and I would encourage you to do the same."

Commissioner Ed Cromartie said he has not found anyone who would admit to being the leaders insisting on the lower classroom numbers.

"There is no secret that we don't have enough teachers to fill all of the spots now," he said. "If we had to go out and fund 50 more teacher for Wayne County, they haven't been born yet. The universities have not produced them yet.

"What I stand in amazement of is that while we sit here talking, how are we going to make some impression on the folk in Raleigh. I ask this in somewhat of facetious manner, where are the people coming from who make the decisions in Raleigh because we don't see to know who they are. It's always so-and-so must be voting on this in some other county."

Cromartie said that maybe the best thing Davis could do would be to provide the county with a list of who first made the motion to reduce class size to a number that the county cannot satisfy.

"It borders on being ridiculous as far as I am concerned," he said.

Cromartie said he also would like someone to show him how reducing the classroom by one student would have an improvement on education of child,

He suggested that instead more teacher assistants would be a better route to take.

Not a single member of the local delegation led the charge, Davis said.

Reduction of class is not necessarily the worst thing in the world, he said. But what becomes challenge in the scenario is when the class size is reduced without the resources to support it.