Garrett: class size reprieve ‘happy news’

School administrators around the state have been crying foul since late 2017 over the way the North Carolina General Assembly implemented a new smaller class size requirement that was essentially an unfunded mandate.

“With what the state gave us, we would have had to hire 14 new positions and then with that said, they were not going to do any of the enrichment teachers such as your art, music and physical education. Those could not be used out of your state allotment so we would have had to pick up 18 of those [teaching positions],” said Dr. Anne Garrett, superintendent of Haywood County Schools. 

Legislators apparently heard the complaints. House Bill 90 was filed this year and had strong bipartisan support through its ratification Feb. 13, including from Western North Carolina representatives Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin, and Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville. 

The bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations that March and passed the Senate in June after a flurry of changes and versions.

Gov. Roy Cooper said he wouldn’t veto the bill, which phases in K-3 class size changes over four years, despite the fact that HB90 isn’t a standalone school bill and includes both a settlement of the partisan fight over the newly constituted State Board of Elections and Ethic Enforcement as well as a change in administration of the $58 million Atlantic Coast Pipeline fund. 

The greatest local impact of HB90, though, doesn’t have to do with elections or pipelines — it comes down to dollars and cents. 

“So that would have been total for Haywood County $1.6 million that would have been taken out of our fund balance, which would have meant that we would have done nothing else for the whole rest of the year,” Garrett said. “And we could do it for one year, but the second year it would become very difficult to maintain.”

Impacts around the region would show consequences similar to those in Haywood County; last spring, Macon County Schools Superintendent Chris Baldwin told The Smoky Mountain News that the district’s elementary schools were already nearing capacity, and that seven new teachers would be needed to comply with the reduced class sizes. In Swain County, Superintendent Sam Pattillo said they’d struggle to comply. 

As ratified, HB90 stipulates that the 2018-19 school year will still require an average K-3 class of no more than 20 students until the second month of the school year – to accommodate transfer students and families who move — at which time the student limit becomes 23, thanks to HB13, sponsored by Franklin Republican Rep. Kevin Corbin in January, 2017.

The more recent changes made by HB90 preserve HB13’s temporary reprieve and say that for the 2019-20 school year, that initial limit becomes 19 students and similarly rises to 22 two months after school starts. During the 2020-21 school year, those numbers become 18 and 21, respectively. 

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