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District 26 adds teacher to bring down first-grade class sizes

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CARY – More parents are saying they will enroll their students in District 26 next school year than originally planned, according to district officials.

The school board this week approved adding a first-grade teacher at Deer Path School for the 2013-14 school year. Seventy-eight first-graders are expected to be at Deer Path next year, but only two sections were planned. To bring class sizes down from 39 students to 26 students, the district decided to add a teacher.

With the additional teacher, all of the district’s three elementary schools then would have average first-grade class sizes in the lower to mid-20s.

“It brings it down to a more comfortable level,” Superintendent Brian Coleman said. However, even with the additional students, the district still expects to be down in enrollment from this school year.

Coleman said there are more people coming back to the district because it is bringing back art and music.

“We’re adding back specials ... some people will return because of that, so this may continue to grow,” Coleman said.

The additional teacher already was included in the draft 2014 budget, and the teacher is expected to cost $46,000.

Class sizes at the district’s buildings can be fluid between March and the beginning of the school year in late August as people move in and out of the district, Coleman said.

“This is something we plan for each year, staffing level-wise,” Coleman said. “We provide staffing in reserve, in two areas, mainly for kindergarten and first grade. A lot of people will take their students out for a full-day [kindergarten] program ... at area private facilities and return them for first grade.”

Board member Jennifer Crick said the district should work to find out why parents will keep their students out of the district for kindergarten.

“What aren’t we providing these families that are choosing to pay extra dollars to go to another school and then come here?” Crick said.

Board member Kevin Carrick has pushed for full-day kindergarten for about a year and suggested using Oak Knoll School as an early child center for kindergarten and preschool programs. The district, however, can’t afford full-day kindergarten.

“A lot of the constraints around it are financial,” Carrick said.

Some districts have put in full-day kindergarten, and some charge for the program. The state, however, could make a judgment where districts are not allowed to charge and they could be forced to pay back parents, Carrick said.

“There’s some risk involved those districts are putting themselves out in right now, and we are not in the position to carry that risk,” Carrick said.

In other action, the district also plans to spend $94,890 on security upgrades. The security upgrades will require people to buzz in when entering buildings during the school day.

The board also decided to deactivate its Community Engagement Committee that meets once a month and use a task force when needed, should additional input be needed on an issue or a major district decision.

The CEC was reactivated in January 2010 as the district was working to balance its budget while evaluating program reductions.

“More recently, CEC presentations have been replications of presentations already given at other committee meetings that are open to the public and available online,” Coleman wrote in a memo to the school board.

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