Class size law may force program cuts at Guilford County Schools

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Art, music, P.E. and other special area subjects could all face big cuts in Guilford County Schools. District leaders say those consequences are inevitable if House Bill 13 doesn't pass.

HB13 is a bipartisan compromise bill, which would provide some relief from a strict maximum class size mandate passed last year.

If HB13 doesn't pass, class sizes for kindergarten through the third grade will stay well under 20 students. Some people think the smaller the class, the better.

But district leaders are struggling to find money and space for extra classrooms and hundreds of teachers they'd need to hire to make that happen.

If HB13 doesn't pass, it will cost Guilford County Schools $16.6 million to hire about 300 kindergarten through third grade teachers to meet the existing class size mandate.

If it does pass, it will still cost the district about $4.6 million to hire fewer than 100 teachers to fall in line with the new compromise mandate.

Budget cuts are inevitable, even if HB13 becomes law, because of the unfunded mandate on class size the state legislature passed last year.

To help offset costs, the district has increased class sizes by one student for grades six through 12 for next year. These "frees up" the cost for 60 teaching jobs, which will be shifted to kindergarten through third grade.

The district also eliminated about 50 teachers assistant jobs for next year.

"This is incredibly frustrating because teachers have to make decisions, employees have to make decisions about their lives, their livelihoods," Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras said.

Mobile units are the likely solution for extra class space, but they're also expensive. Each one costs about $150,000 to buy and $100,000 to transport and install.

"That is not a good working condition for the teacher, and to give her the most effective way to do her job, and if we can prevent doing cart teaching, please, we don't need to do that," Board Member T. Dianne Bellamy Small said.

In addition, district leaders say it costs about $30,000 to set up each additional kindergarten or first, second or third-grade classroom. That includes carpeting, desk, and classroom materials and supplies.

All of these options remain up in the air until a decision is reached on HB13.

"Compare it to your personal life, it's like trying to plan for your home but not knowing what your salary is," Contreras said.

Art, music, P.E., extra tutoring and other special are subjects would likely be up next on the chopping block.

"We will have to make cuts that will be so upsetting to everybody in every possible way," Board Chairman Alan Duncan said.

HB13 passed unanimously in the House earlier this year. It passed the first reading in the Senate, but remains stalled in the Committee on Rules and Operations.