The school board's decision to cut class size outside the scope of state legislation is unwise, ill-fated and costly, and should be rescinded when the school board next meets, Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery said during the commissioners' Tuesday morning session.
Daughtery and Commissioners Joe Gurley and Bill Pate also expressed offense at insinuations by school board member Raymond Smith that commissioners have failed to fund schools.
On Feb. 26, the school board voted 5-2 to implement the class size restrictions originally mandated by the General Assembly in House Bill 90 -- a maximum of 18 students per class in kindergarten, 16 in first grade, and 17 in second and third grades -- at the five low-performing elementary schools by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
The motion, made by Smith, also included prioritizing those schools when placing licensed teachers. Voting for the motion with Smith were school board members Len Henderson, Pat Burden, Arnold Flowers and Rick Pridgen.
Chris West, who attended the commissioners' meeting, and Jennifer Strickland voted against the motion.
Daughtery said that he, along with many others, were shocked and disappointed by the approval of the policy change by five members of the school board.
The policy will cost the Wayne County school system local dollars as well as personnel, Daughtery said.
The first part of the school board action was to reduce the class size in low-performing elementary schools next year to the levels required in the 2021-22 school year as set by recent legislation, he said.
There are three reasons why the policy is misguided and wrong for Wayne County schools, Daughtery said.
The first reason is that after many months of opposition to the original state mandate, the General Assembly reached out and studied the timing of the implementation of class size reduction, he said.
Legislators consulted with the N.C. School Board Association, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, county commissioners individually, school board members, superintendents, teachers, parents and others, Daughtery said.
"Then, after months of discussion, the General Assembly passed the legislation last month that we asked for and that was to fund those additional teachers," Daughtery said. "Furthermore, the legislation phases in those requirements over several years. We all asked for more time and more money from the legislators, and they provided it.
"It is misguided and wrong to implement a program outside that legislation. Now many legislators may conclude that we were misleading them over our financial needs by this action."
The legislation clearly lays out state funding for these additional teachers, and any policy outside of this will have to be fully funded from local funds, Daughtery said.
"I have been advised that the cost of implementing this recently voted policy will cost the county school system approximately $1.4 million," he said. "Now at that rate, the entire fund balance will be depleted before the state picks up the funding of those teachers. This is just wrong."
Also of concern is that the policy would require the superintendent to place certified teachers first in the five low-performing elementary schools, Daughtery said.
This will require moving certified teachers from other schools in Wayne County, sometimes over the teacher's objection, he said.
"Certified teachers are a premium, and we certainly do not want to risk losing any of them," he said. "This will greatly disrupt the students' achievements in most of the other schools in Wayne County and may motivate some of our certified teachers to leave Wayne County."
Everyone wants to find the solution to improve low-performing schools, but the school board's policy decision is not the answer, Daughtery said.
Daughtery also questioned comments made by Smith, specifically that commissioners need to "put their money where their mouth is."
"This was highly offensive," he said. "It was highly offensive to me as an individual and to the entire board. It threatens the positive relationship that we have worked years to develop. Mr. Smith, this board has put its money where its mouth is.
"We have proved a commitment to better schools by approving the building of Grantham Middle School, Spring Creek Middle School, Meadow Lane Elementary School with Edgewood, and we have approved capital improvements at Charles B. Aycock, Goldsboro High, Southern Wayne, Spring Creek Elementary and many other schools."
Also, commissioners recently approved adding eight classrooms at a cost of $1.4 million at the new Meadow Lane Elementary School, now under construction, he said.
"Add it all up," he said. "Over the last five years, this board has put its money where its mouth is -- over $90 million in school improvements."
The $90 million is amazing as to what commissioners have contributed to schools in the county and education for children, Gurley said.
He said it is his mission to support the school board, since county residents want what is best for their children.
"However, with this mission comes a number of fixed costs -- tax dollars at a premium, not only for the taxpayers, but for the agencies that use these dollars to provide services that are critical, necessary and desired," Gurley said.
"The indication that this board of commissioners has not put those tax dollars into play to continue to improve not only our schools but our county is wrong. I challenge anyone with skepticism to research the issue of this board's funding stream for education."
To be clear, funding is not a silver bullet to correct all problems that arise, he said.
Rather a measured, strategic, common-sense approach must be applied in all situations in Wayne County government of which the school system is and always has been a part of, Gurley said.
Pate said the recent joint meeting between commissioners and school board was an effort to ensure that both were on the same page since both boards have been working so well together over the past few years.
"There have been great investments by this board in facilities," he said. "But what disappoints me so badly is we had the opportunity to discuss these things together, and it didn't happen that way.
"At first I was offended, but I was more disappointed because we don't want sour relations with the board of education because we have got to work together. If we don't work together, we are not going to improve the lives of our kids. So we need to be on the same page. We are not always going to agree, but we have got to talk about it."