Wake Ed

State’s new lower class sizes impacting Wake County school budget

Students Jack O'Grady, left, Ryder Lawson, center, and Anwita Ambalavanan share iPads in Sarah Lloyd's first grade class at Mills Park Elementary in Cary NC on Nov. 22, 2016. School districts around North Carolina, including Wake County, are facing lower K-3 class sizes starting in the 2017-18 school year.
Students Jack O'Grady, left, Ryder Lawson, center, and Anwita Ambalavanan share iPads in Sarah Lloyd's first grade class at Mills Park Elementary in Cary NC on Nov. 22, 2016. School districts around North Carolina, including Wake County, are facing lower K-3 class sizes starting in the 2017-18 school year. cseward@newsobserver.com

School budgets and the future of the year-round school program will take up a lot of the Wake County school board’s attention on Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s work session, staff will provide information on the impact of the state’s reduction in K-3 class sizes on Wake. School officials in Wake, and the rest of the state, have been weighing how to factor in the lower class sizes into the budgets being developed for the 2017-18 school year.

Lawmakers lowered maximum class sizes in kindergarten through third grade as part of last year’s state budget. School officials around the state say the changes limit their flexibility to pay specialists such as art, music, foreign language and physical education teachers out of the state dollars provided for regular classroom teachers.

A new report from the liberal N.C. Justice Center says meeting the new class sizes will cost school districts as much as $388 million more per year in operating costs as well as significant capital costs.

In Wake, school officials have estimated it would cost $26 million more to hire 462 additional K-3 teachers without eliminating elementary school art, music and PE.

Superintendent Jim Merrill budgeted half of the $26 million needed into his proposed 2017-18 operating budget. Merrill said he budgeted $13 million with hopes that state legislators will come through with a solution that won’t be hard on current employees or cost more money.

Overall, Merrill has proposed asking the Wake County Board of Commissioners for a $56.6 million increase in funding. The size of the request, along with the idea of funding what the state has historically paid for, is raising questions from commissioners.

Later in the work session, the school board will hold its first formal review of Merrill’s budget proposal. The public will have a chance to comment during the 6 p.m. budget public hearing at the regular meeting.

Also during the work session, staff will present feedback on the proposal to convert Salem Middle and Salem Elementary in Apex and Banks Road Elementary near Fuquay-Varina convert to a traditional calendar in 2018. Staff has also proposed changing Alston Ridge Elementary in Cary to a traditional calendar in 2019.

Parental reaction has been divided on the district’s online discussion forum, with supporters arguing that Wake shouldn’t reduce the number of multi-track year-round schools and critics saying more traditional-calendar schools are needed.

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As part of the calendar discussion, staff will present a proposal to change how people request seats in year-round and traditional-calendar schools beginning in the 2018-19 school year.

In the new approach, there would be a year-round school application process for families who are assigned to a traditional calendar school. But families assigned to a year-round school would get a traditional-calendar school request process.

Other topics on Tuesday include:

▪ Approving an agreement with the City of Raleigh to share use of upgraded outdoor facilities that will be built at Poe and Walnut Creek elementary schools. Officials say the partnership would address “play deserts” – where low-income children do not have accessible opportunities to play – that surround the two Southeast Raleigh schools.

▪ Adopting 2018-19 calendars for traditional, modified and year-round schools.

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