More trailers? Shared classrooms? Schools consider ways to deal with new class-size rules

Wakefield Elementary students leaves their mobile classrooms in this file photo.
Wakefield Elementary students leaves their mobile classrooms in this file photo. Takaaki Iwabu

Wake County’s youngest students might have to use more mobile classrooms, and fourth- and fifth-grade classes might become larger in the coming years.

Wake school leaders are trying to figure out how to deal with new rules handed down from the state legislature that require smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. A committee made up of principals and staff presented some potential short-term solutions to the school board’s facilities committee Wednesday.

“There is not one solution that is going to work for everyone in the county,” said Kristen Faircloth, a committee member and principal of Sycamore Creek Elementary in North Raleigh. “Some solutions are going to work for some schools and not for others.”

As part of last year’s budget, North Carolina lawmakers lowered maximum class sizes in kindergarten through third grade from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students. The maximum typical K-3 class size for school districts will drop from 21 students to between 16 and 18 students.

These changes would have gone into effect this fall, but House Bill 13, which was passed in April, pushed back extensive class-size reductions until the 2018-19 school year. Some school districts, including Wake, had warned that some art, music and physical education teachers would have to be laid off if the new rules were applied this year.

Wake expects to have 559 fewer classrooms and 9,500 fewer seats a year from now. The district anticipates 2,500 additional students by 2021, which would add another 48 classrooms to the shortfall.

On Wednesday, the committee said more students could be housed in mobile classrooms on school campuses, and schools could convert spaces such as teachers’ lounges into classrooms.

To free up classrooms, art and music teachers could operate without classrooms of their own, traveling throughout schools with equipment on carts. School board member Jim Martin expressed concerns about that idea.

“The quality is incredibly different,” he said.

Another solution could be to convert some schools to the multi-track year-round calendar. Aaron Marcin, principal of Lead Mine Elementary School in Raleigh, said his school could accommodate up to 150 additional students if it converted to that schedule.

As class sizes in the lowest grades get smaller, older students in elementary schools could be in larger classes. The committee said fourth- and fifth-grade classes could have between 29 and 32 students.

Some principals are already making changes to comply with the state mandate, including having two teachers share one classroom space.

The school board is expected to consider the ideas during its Aug. 15 meeting. Over the next few months, the committee will continue to work on potential solutions.

“I’d like to point out the word ‘potential,’ ” said Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for academic advancement. “All of this is dependent on where space is available and what makes sense.”

Martin said it will be tough to make enough changes to comply with the class-size rules. He suggested inviting the legislators who represent Wake to a meeting about how the changes will affect the school system.

“When I look at this list, it’s not going to get you to 9,500 seats,” Martin said.

Ultimately, Wake needs more seats to comply with the state mandate, said Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities.

“The real answer is building more capacity,” he said.

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon