CMS to add trailers, reduce magnet seats to comply with K-3 class size cap

With little mention of relief for K-3 class size mandates in the legislature, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will add more trailers and limit enrollment in magnet programs this fall to help schools meet the state’s cutoffs.

At a board committee meeting Wednesday, CMS identified 14 elementary schools at high risk for failing to meet the size caps that go into full effect by the fall of 2021. Proposed solutions to ensure compliance by the deadline include moving students into trailers, trimming down magnet programs or redrawing boundaries for the 2021-2022 school year.

The district and the school board raised concerns about unintended consequences of the mandate as schools try to find a way to come into compliance. Removing seats at partial magnet schools could decrease socioeconomic diversity, a key component of CMS’s equity plan, associate superintendent Akeshia Craven-Howell said.

“Students are guaranteed a seat at their home school so the more we have to accommodate, the fewer seats we can offer in the lottery,” she said. “If we have to restrict seats, then we’re restricting seats that offer choice.”

The caps come from a 2016 legislative mandate for public schools to trim class sizes to improve academic achievement. A 2018 bill modified the requirements to allow them to go into effect with gradual decreases each year, with the maximum size shrinking incrementally each year to reach 16 to 18 students per class, depending on grade level, by fall 2021.

Not all schools will be able to bring down their class sizes with temporary mobile classrooms or enrollment tweaks. Elizabeth Lane Elementary, for example, will face a shortage of five classrooms this fall, but will not be able to add mobile classrooms due to space and zoning constraints.

Fourth- and fifth-grade classes, while not part of the mandate, may also be affected as they lose classrooms in order to accommodate the younger grades. Because the limits are only for K-3 classes, schools can consolidate fourth- and fifth-graders into larger classes in order to free up classrooms for younger students.

“I don’t think the intent of the legislation was to create larger class sizes at other grades,” Craven-Howell said. “That’s certainly not something we want to do.”

Other workarounds include converting art and music space into regular classrooms, leaving those teachers to go from class to class without dedicated teaching area, or putting two teachers in one classroom to bring down the ratio. Some relief is expected with the completion of ongoing school construction projects, partially funded by the bond passed in 2017.

CMS is not planning on reassigning students to meet the state’s class size limitations this fall. At Wednesday’s meeting, the district said that boundary changes might be required in the future as the deadline for full compliance in 2021 approaches.

CMS had asked the legislature for a delay in implementing the size caps, as well as funding to build more classroom space. In a letter to the legislature earlier this month, three school board members⁠ — Mary McCray, Elyse Dashew and Margaret Marshall ⁠— expressed concern over the lack of resources.

“If the NCGA does not address the required capital needed to comply with the change in class size, the resulting impact will be detrimental to elementary students across our state,” they wrote.

The legislature declined to push back the implementation of the lower class sizes, and it did not include a proposed bond referendum in the budget that would have raised $61.8 million for CMS. The budget put forth by Republicans included a $48 million allocation for capital to CMS, but Gov. Roy Cooper said he plans to veto. The money would also not relieve class size pressures in the short term.

The district previously estimated that it would cost at least $20 million if all the extra class space required were built as temporary trailers.

These are the schools and the proposed changes:

Berewick Elementary: Adding eight mobile classrooms for fall 2019.

Elizabeth Lane Elementary: Relief via Lansdowne replacement in fall 2021, no options for relief prior to then.

Elon Park Elementary: Adding two mobile classrooms for fall 2019, relief school planned for fall 2023.

First Ward Creative Arts Academy: Can reduce number of magnet seats.

J.V. Washam Elementary: Adding four mobile classrooms for fall 2019.

Lawrence Orr Elementary: Adding three mobile classrooms for fall 2019.

Matthews Elementary: Mobile classrooms are not an option, potential boundary change involving Crown Point. Greenway Park is also an option but doing so would eliminate their magnet seats.

Oakhurst STEAM Academy: Will slightly reduce the number of magnet seats.

Palisades Park Elementary: Adding three mobile classrooms for fall 2019.

Polo Ridge Elementary: Adding two mobile classrooms for fall 2019, with relief from Rea Farms K-8 in 2020.

Providence Spring Elementary: Mobile classrooms are not an option, potential relief from McKee Road for 2021.

River Gate Elementary: Adding two mobile classrooms for fall 2019.

Selwyn Elementary: Mobile classrooms are not an option, potential relief from Montclaire replacement school in fall 2020.

Sharon Elementary: Adding seven mobile classrooms for fall 2019.