State grading of schools and funding to build classrooms to accommodate the state-mandated reduced class size for K through third grades were big topics at a breakfast meeting between CMS and elected officials. Friday’s breakfast meeting was not as testy as last year’s when charter schools were a major item, but the convictions on the legislative agenda items were just as strong.
Last year, CMS and other school districts were successful in getting lawmakers to approve more money to hire the thousands of teachers needed to have smaller classes.
But they still need money for more classrooms, says CMS Policy Administrator Charles Jeter.
“We’ve got 225 classroom spaces that we’ve got to have,” Jeter said. “We have the teachers but unless we let these kids get taught on a playground outside we got a real problem here and it’s not an easy fix, there’s no pleasant solution short of funding the capital needs.”
Over the next three years, K-3 class sizes will go from a maximum of 24 students to a maximum of between 16 and 18, depending on the grade.
CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox says many schools do not have space to add trailers and that in some cases, classes will have to be built. He puts the total cost of adding classrooms at $40 million.
“I think it’s doable because we are not talking about one year, we’re talking about phasing it in,” said Mecklenburg state Sen. Joyce Waddell. “These are things I will fight for and bills I will draft in the General Assembly because I think it’s important that we have classroom sizes so that students can learn and individual attention can be given to learning things that children seem to not understand if the classroom size is small enough.”
CMS officials also want changes made to legislation that changes how schools are graded. Currently they are graded on a 15-point scale. For example, schools are given an A if they score 85 to 100. Next year schools will be graded on a 10-point scale. Jeter says this will hurt morale for students, staff and parents at many schools.
“Albemarle Road currently has a 57 which gives it a C. It will now be an F school,” Jeter said. “ It has 86 percent growth. Does a school that’s getting its students 86 percent growth level a failing school? Under our current model in North Carolina that’s how we are gonna designate it.”
The request has support from state Sen. Natasha Marcus.
“That’s a very reasonable request because if you are going to grade on one scale you need to stick with the scale,” Marcus said. “We need consistency so those grades make sense. It’s one thing that doesn’t cost money but is good policy. We should keep the same grading.”
But House member Carla Cunningham isn’t sure it’s appropriate to give schools an A grade if they only score an 85.
“I’m concerned that we’re lowering our standards by looking at staying at a 15 instead of going to a 10,” Cunningham said. “We’re going to go to 15 points and the state is going to go 10. We probably need to look at what other states are doing and not just our state.”
CMS officials also want lawmakers to consider giving schools two separate grades for proficiency and growth. Currently, 80 percent of a school’s grade is determined on how students do on state exams and 20 percent on a schools growth. Some legislators say they could possibly support that change and some say maybe the calculation could be changed to give growth and proficiency the same weight.
Other items on CMS’ legislative agenda include more funding to hire additional emotional support staff for students, pay increases for teachers and other staff and allowing school districts to control when classes start and end. And although it was not discussed, but merely mentioned, the agenda includes a call for a repeal of legislation that allows some municipalities to create and operate their own charter schools, a major issue CMS officials are grappling with now.