Petition asks Wake to review size requirements for elementary classes

sbarr@newsobserver.comMarch 2, 2013 

— A group of parents is urging Wake County school administrators – as they prepare next year’s budget – to consider how class-size requirements can disrupt families in year-round elementary schools.

Five hundred parents and other concerned residents from across the county had signed an online petition by Thursday that outlines how different class-size requirements for third and fourth grades can force families to change tracks.

The PTA of Brier Creek Elementary in northwest Raleigh started the petition in mid-February to raise awareness about the issue in the system’s 35 multi-track, year-round elementary schools.

“Every year, our parents have to deal with potential track changes,” said Barb Martin, president of the Brier Creek PTA.

School system officials have said they’re working to address the issue in the forthcoming budget proposal, which Superintendent Stephen Gainey is expected to present to the school board Tuesday. Deborah Prickett, the school board member who represents the Brier Creek area, said she is hopeful that the board will be able to help solve the problem.

“I can relate to students changing tracks and know how very difficult this is for families,” she said in an email.

“The students have to adjust to a whole new set of friends in addition to making the calendar schedule change.”

The petition’s supporters say the problem is that the maximum-size third-grade class fewer students than the minimum required to fund a teacher for fourth and fifth grades. If a school can’t fill a full fourth-grade class, administrators have to shuffle students among the school’s tracks to make the numbers work.

The changes can force families to reschedule child care, vacations and other activities.

For families with more than one child, scheduling can be even more complicated.

Mindy Dershem, the PTA president at Ballentine Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina, said families need to know far earlier than April or May what schedule they’re going to be on.

“Parents are always a little bit on edge this time of year,” she said.

Roxanne Rowe, president of the Sycamore Creek Elementary PTA, said worries about track changes are a constant theme among families at the North Raleigh school because of the class-size requirements and other policies.

“The one thing that we commonly hear from families is that we need stability in our schools,” Rowe said.

Officials seeking solution

The petition recommends that the school system waive the minimum class-size requirements for fourth and fifth grades for the 35 potentially affected schools and fund a fourth-grade teacher based on third-grade class size. Doing so would give families more stability and mean fewer families would want to transfer out of year-round schools as their children get older, the petition states.

Martin said that she is glad school system officials have taken an interest in the issue and that supporters know any changes may not look just like their recommendation.

“We want to give the district the space and time to come up with a solution,” she said.

The issue came up at a school board meeting Feb. 19, when Chairman Keith Sutton said after a closed session that he had received many emails from Brier Creek families and wanted to know whether his colleagues had as well.

Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore explained that under state law, fourth- and fifth-grade classes can be bigger than in the lower grades. As a result, state funding allotments are higher, meaning that more students are needed to get funding for a teacher. The funding allotments mean schools have fewer fourth- and fifth-grade sections, which is what leads to track changes.

Moore and Chief Business Officer David Neter said they were looking at funding changes that would fix the situation at Brier Creek and other schools.

School officials have said the petition contains some errors.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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