Onslow County Board of Education discusses latest on impacts of new K-3 class size requirement

Onslow County school officials hope to avoid cutting any teaching jobs as work continues to implement the first year of new class size requirements to take effect with the 2017-2018 school year.

Barry Collins, associate superintendent for Human Resources and Student Services for Onslow County Schools, gave an overview of the effects of House Bill 13 on staffing and programming during Thursday’s special meeting of the Board of Education.

HB13 lessened the full impact of the new state requirements for reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grades by phasing in the changes over two years. Full implementation was initially set to take effect during the next school year.

The school district has anticipated the need for 147 additional teaching positions at the K-3 level to meet the full requirements, which will reduce class sizes to around 20 students for K-3 classes for the 2017-18 and then from 16 to 18 students per class depending on the grade beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

Collins said they are looking at a transition to 65 additional positions at the K-3 level in the upcoming year, requiring a reduction of positions in some areas and shifting around of others. But, Collins said, they believe they can meet the requirements through attrition rather than having to cut the jobs of current teachers.

Collins said they were able to avoid giving out pink slips during a staff reduction in 2008-2009 and that is the goal as they approach the next school year.

“We didn’t do that back in 2008 and our goal, and I’m sure the goal as a board, is not to do that this time,” Collins said.

Collins noted that they could see 60 to 75 teachers retire or resign as the end of the school year approaches.

Collins said the school district will be fortunate if no jobs have to be cut for the coming year but the class size reductions will have an even greater impact for the 2018-19 year.

“The first year there is going to be some pain and in the following year there is going to be some more pain that comes along with it,” Collins said.

The bigger issue over the second year is expected to be space as the school district looks at where to put the additional classrooms that will be needed to accommodate the small class sizes.

Richlands Primary School, for instance, is already in need of additional mobile classrooms.

“How in the world are we going to find somewhere to put all those classrooms?” Collins asked. “I think we’ve got it figured out for this year but, I’m telling you, it’s going to be difficult next year."

If classrooms for physical education, music and art have to be converted to traditional classrooms, that leaves PE, art and music teachers teaching from roaming carts.

A presentation of Chief of Operations Steve Myers on school capacity issues showed student populations continuing to rise.

Over the next five years the student population for Onslow County Schools is expected to increase by 1,128 students and by 2,716 students over the next 10 years.

Based on 2017-2018 capacity calculations, with new construction factored in, 13 elementary schools and two middle schools will have a student capacity exceeding 105 percent. That number goes up to 15 elementary schools with the 2018-19 projections.

With the use of mobile units, the number of schools exceeding 105 percent capacity would drop to four elementary schools and one middle school. For 2018-19 projections, seven elementary schools and one middle school would be above capacity.

Myers said the school district is taking several steps to address capacity issues in the upcoming school year.

Additional mobile units will be put on campus at Richlands Primary and Stateside Elementary and steps will be taken to optimize classes due to third-grade constraints at Richlands Elementary.

With the opening of the new Dixon Middle School, fifth graders will move from the elementary school to the middle school.

Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at jannette.pippin@jdnews.com or 910-382-2557.