Is 190 extra teaching months of employment enough to deal with sharply underenrolled Wake County schools this fall?
The issue came up during last week's school budget discussion when school board member Jim Martin asked how staff determined which schools would get new STEM and Global Schools programs for this fall.
Martin said that the new student assignment plan is projected to result in 33 elementary schools being below 60 percent of their projected kindergarten capacity. Based on the data, Martin asked why some schools that were less underenrolled got the new programs.
"We have a lot of schools that are showing indicators of major underenrollment," Martin said.
Underenrollment is a problem because schools get funding to hire teachers based on how many students they have. Schools that are severely underenrolled have a hard time offering some courses, such as specials, unless the school district provides more funding than a school their size would normally receive.
Superintendent Tony Tata answered Martin that underenrollment was only one component for determining which schools got new programs.
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore, who headed the group that reviewed the applications, echoed Tata. She said that in addition to enrollment, they looked at factors such as how schools said they'd use the new program.
Moore also said that not all the underenrolled schools applied. She said they can't give a program to a school if it doesn't make the request.
“This is not just a strategy to fill underenrolled schools," Moore said of the program expansions.
Moore added that they've set aside 190 months of teacher employment in the new budget, just like this school year, to help underenrolled schools. Wake talks about months of employment rather than number of jobs because positions can be part time and shared among multiple schools.
As for Martin's earlier statement about the new plan leaving schools underenrolled, Tata said that 44 schools were "severely underenrolled" under the old assignment plan. Those were schools that were at 89 percent or less of capacity.
Martin asked whether 190 months is enough to help the schools that will be underenrolled.
"Is this enough to deal with the need"" Martin asked.
Moore said existing small schools already know how to deal with enrollment challenges. She said schools whose enrollments are projected to see a big shift down are the ones the district will most likely target with the extra positions.
For now, Moore said it looks like 190 months is enough but they'll have to see.
Tata pointed to how they used the 190 months this school year to help five schools.
Martin asked if they expect to serve five schools or some other amount this fall. Tata answered that they'll know after they finish filling the seats.
Moore said they're committed to provide 20 months of employment per school, meaning they could help nine schools. But she said some schools might need more assistance.
“We'll need to look at the numbers and see what the need is,” Moore said.
School board member Christine Kushner brought up how the May 15 school assignment notifications letters that out went out last year told families about the option of transferring to the small schools and the new STEM and Global Schools. She asked if it would be duplicated this year.
Tata called it a great idea that staff would take on this year.
You can follow pages 4-7 of this budget handout for additional info on how the new programs were awarded and what's being done to help the small schools.