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District needs 60 teachers, 50 classrooms to comply with house bill

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State representative along with members of the Pitt County School Board met to discuss funding for new classrooms and other matters, during a luncheon at South Central High School, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019.

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By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Thursday, February 21, 2019

State legislation’s effect on classroom size — and ways to pay for mandated changes — sparked discussion during Monday’s legislative luncheon and workshop at South Central High School.

Members of the Pitt County Board of Education and district administrators met with state Sen. Don Davis and state Reps. Chris Humphrey, Greg Murphy and Kandie Smith to discuss school-related plans and priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session. 

School officials focused on House Bill 90, which decreases class sizes in kindergarten through third grade over the course of four years. By the 2021-22, average class sizes should be 18 students per teacher, with no class having more than 21 students.

“Small class size is a good thing, but there are … unintended consequences,” Superintendent Ethan Lenker said. “There’s two real problems: one — we can’t find enough teachers to cover all these classrooms and two — where are all these classes going to go?”

Under H.B. 90, Pitt County Schools will have to hire more than 60 teachers in kindergarten through third grade, Lenker said. The district already is having difficulties staffing in such positions.

“We already have three elementary openings right now,” Lenker said. “And this isn’t something we can wait until implementation to start hiring teachers.”

The General Assembly allocates funds to school districts to hire teachers. Pitt County Schools had 14 new teacher positions funded for the 2018-19 school year.

To attract more teachers, several members of the school board suggested increasing supplements — local money given to teachers in addition to their state-funded salaries.

“If you get the local supplement up where it makes a difference with the surrounding area, we wouldn’t have to concentrate so much on recruitment because we would attract those teachers,” school board member Benjie Forrest said. He wants to raise supplements to 10 percent.

Supplements now are 3 percent for beginning teachers and 5.25 percent for veteran teachers. This is the result of receiving less money than requested from the Pitt County Board of Commissioners during the last three years, according to Lenker.

“I feel like if when we go to the county commissioners and explain what is staring us down and why we need to go for 10 percent, that may help,” Vice Chairwoman Betsy Flanagan said.

The other consequence of H.B. 90 is the need for more classrooms, Lenker said.

“For Pitt County Schools, we need 50 more classrooms than we have (to comply with the legislation),” he said. “For us to come up with 50 more classrooms, we’d need $21 million.”

The General Assembly has not granted funding for classrooms and capital improvements yet, but two different funding methods are being discussed.

The N.C. House of Representatives is proposing a $1.3 million revenue bond to be voted on during the 2020 elections. However, the revenue bond would not cover all construction costs.

The N.C. Senate is suggesting using money from the tax base and paying for construction “as we go,” Lenker said.

“I would like to see a combination of the two suggestions,” he said. “We need as much money as we can get to build the necessary classrooms.”

While Pitt County Schools has some elementary schools under capacity, redistricting would not solve the problem, he said.

“The schools where we have room, like Bethel, we don’t have enough students living there,” Lenker said.

Lenker asked  Davis, Humphrey, Murphy and Smith to keep these problems in mind during the legislative budget session.

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