Some Wake County year-round elementary schools are warning families about changes to some student schedules this fall to meet new smaller class sizes mandated by state lawmakers.
Wake’s 27 multi-track elementary schools split students into four groups, or tracks, that operate on their own schedules. With the state requiring smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade beginning in July, families at Middle Creek, Turner Creek and Willow Springs elementary schools were recently notified that some students will have to change tracks.
“Many track assignments will need to be changed using a lottery system,” Lisa Spaulding, principal of Turner Creek Elementary in Cary, said in a March 28 email message to parents. “While we realize changing tracks is not ideal, in order to comply with the new state laws, we are left with no other options.”
The year-round changes come on top of warnings from school districts that they may have to cut art, music, physical education and foreign language classes unless they get relief from the class-size changes.
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As part of the state budget adopted last year, maximum individual K-3 class sizes will drop from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students this fall. The maximum average K-3 class sizes for school districts will drop from 21 students to between 16 and 18 students.
School officials say the change removes their flexibility to pay specialists such as arts and PE teachers out of the state dollars provided for regular classroom teachers. They have supported a compromise bill, House Bill 13, which they say would provide them with enough flexibility to continue to spread money around to offer the special classes.
House Bill 13, which still reduces K-3 class sizes but not as severely as in last year’s budget, was unanimously approved by the House in February, but it has stalled in the Senate.
Amid the uncertainty, Wake principals were told they could model different scenarios for what they’d do this fall, according to Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman.
Caroline Miller, principal of Middle Creek Elementary near Apex, told parents she’s planning as if House Bill 13 will become law. But even then, she said the school will need to move some students to get class sizes down.
“I realize this news may not be welcome, but I want to be as transparent as possible regarding the potential changes all year round schools could be facing,” Miller wrote in a letter sent Thursday to parents.
Camille Miller, principal of Willow Springs Elementary School in southern Wake, asked some kindergarten parents in a March 23 letter if they’d be willing to volunteer to change tracks to meet the state size requirements.
Spaulding cited the uncertainty about the bill to say that Turner Creek needs to adjust the total number of classes per grade level and distribute students across all tracks.
“We’re at 24 in my daughter’s class,” said Lisa Langley, a parent of a second-grade student at Turner Creek. “It’s going to take a lot to move to 17.”
Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill is expected to recommend Tuesday how to deal with the class-size uncertainty when he presents his budget proposal for the 2017-18 school year. Wake administrators have previously estimated that meeting the new class sizes could require hiring 460 additional K-3 teachers and cost $26 million more in local funding.
Langley said the clock is ticking to get the class-size issue resolved soon because year-round schools begin the new school year July 10.
“A lot of people think it will be resolved,” she said. “But we’re running out of time.”