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Monday December 6th

Orange County Schools struggle to cap class size for NC legislation

<p>Students at East Chapel Hill High School spend time outside after school is let out.&nbsp;</p>
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Students at East Chapel Hill High School spend time outside after school is let out. 

North Carolina school districts are facing a funding crisis. In Orange County, voters approved a $120 million bond in November 2016 to renovate several school buildings, but additional funding for teachers and new classrooms will be needed to comply with a proposed reduction in class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.

The legislation requires kindergarten through third grade classrooms to have 18 or fewer students by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has a waiver to be out of compliance with the legislation until the following school year. 

The cap is designed to address growing class sizes, provide a better learning environment and to improve test scores, Tom Carr, Orange County School Board member, said. However, many school districts are struggling to implement it in time.

The Orange County School Board passed a resolution in April of 2017 to express their concerns citing that the school district would need more funding to avoid increasing class sizes in upper grades or cutting special education programs such as arts or physical education.

“One of the problems is growth, but with all the schools, buildings aren’t growing," Carr said. "There aren't more classrooms. If they want us to lower the class sizes like they’re capping it at, we may need more teachers, but we also need more rooms, that’s the big dilemma."

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools would need the equivalent of two elementary schools to provide enough classrooms for students in addition to the eight to ten other schools that need serious renovation, said Jeff Nash, executive CHCCS spokesperson.

The CHCCS district would require many new teachers to teach smaller classes at a time when North Carolina schools struggle to compete with out of state schools as potential employers, Nash said.

“My fear is that, if they insist on having this reduction stand, that they’re going to have to lower the standards of what makes a licensed teacher or do away with the licensing part,” Nash said.

As North Carolina school districts work to fund more teacher salaries, Nash is concerned that the additional funding won’t address the underlying issue of teacher shortages.

“Even if the legislature offered funding to go with this, it doesn’t solve the problem of facilities or finding certified teachers in this time of shortage,” Nash said.

The funding is unlikely to come from increased tax revenue, said N.C. Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange. She predicted that many school systems will be out of compliance with the resolution if lawmakers do nothing to increase funds or delay its execution.

“There’s not anything more important than educating the next generation of people," Insko said. 

"We are going to die, but these kids are still going to be around," she said. "Why are we protecting ourselves? These children are going to carry on after us."

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