More than two dozen Wake County elementary schools may need to reassign students, evict transfer students and prevent newly arriving families from attending to meet next year’s new state-mandated class-size limits.
Principals at the majority of Wake’s 113 elementary schools say they can meet state rules for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade by taking steps next year such as converting art and music spaces to regular classrooms and increasing class sizes for older children. But principals at 27 elementary schools say they just don’t have the space to make it work and need outside help that could include removing some of their students.
“The reason that we’re doing this is the budget passed by the legislature removes all of the flexibility that we had in elementary school to do it differently,” school board member Bill Fletcher said at Tuesday’s meeting.
State lawmakers lowered school district class sizes for K-3 in 2018 to an average of roughly 17 students, compared with 21 children in the 2016-17 school year. Wake will have to create space for the equivalent of 559 classrooms and 9,500 students.
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To prepare for the smaller class sizes, Wake surveyed principals on what they’re planning to do in 2018. Options that principals anticipate using include:
▪ Convert some classrooms used for limited English proficient and academically gifted students – 70 schools;
▪ Combine students from two grade levels in the same class – 64 schools;
▪ Convert both art and music classrooms and have those teachers carry their supplies on a cart – 48 schools;
▪ Have fourth- and fifth-grade classes of more than 29 students – 43 schools.
“We’re focusing on teaching and learning and what’s best for kids and making it work,” said Kristen Faircloth, principal of Sycamore Creek Elementary School in Raleigh and a member of the district’s class size committee.
The district is focusing on the 27 elementary schools that say that even after they do all they can to find space they won’t be able to get class sizes down enough next year. Those schools are located all around the county, but the majority are in the high-growth areas of northwestern, western and southwestern Wake.
Some options are being dropped from consideration, such as changing what grades are offered at individual schools and converting schools to a year-round calendar, which can increase the capacity but is unpopular with some parents.
One option to help the 27 schools is to add classroom trailers if there’s room for them. But it takes time to move them, costs money and requires municipal approval that might not be forthcoming.
The most controversial options are removing some transfer students, placing enrollment caps and reassigning students to where there’s more space.
All schools have some transfer students who got permission to leave their assigned school. They’re normally allowed to stay until they finish at the school, but some may be asked to look elsewhere in 2018.
Enrollment caps are a way Wake tries to shift the burden on crowding to newcomers instead of existing families. If a school that’s capped hits a certain number of students, families who move in after a specific date are sent to a school that’s farther away that has more space.
Wake capped only four elementary schools this school year, but the figure could rise to more than 20 in 2018.
Student assignment staff said they’re now considering more schools for inclusion in the enrollment plan than they would have before due to the new class sizes.
“Other than the redistricting for new schools, a lot of this is temporary to get you a solution for 18-19,” Assistant Superintendent Joe Desormeaux told board members.
School board members will discuss the options at next week’s facilities committee meeting. The first draft of the 2018-19 student assignment is scheduled to be released Sept. 19.
As Wake continues to work through its options for 2018, Superintendent Jim Merrill reassured board members that the district will redouble its efforts to get state lawmakers to relax the new K-3 class size rules.
“I don’t think a lot of the legislators understand the impact,” said school board member Jim Martin. “The public doesn’t understand the impact. It’s tough for us to fully understand the impact.”