With HB13 in limbo, teachers say art, PE, music at risk

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017
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Special classes such as art, music, and P.E. are on the chopping block along with those teachers' jobs as local school districts craft their budgets with HB13 hanging in the balance.

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Michelle Craig holds the handwritten letter her son Jesse, a first grader at Cary's Briarcliff Elementary School, wrote to senators who have yet to act on House Bill 13.

"Dear Senators," Craig reads aloud. "Don't lower class sizes next year so we can have PE, Art and Music."

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The bill, which would alleviate pressure put on by a state law reducing K-3 class sizes in the 2017-2018 school year, is stalled in the Senate Rules and Operations Committee, after passing the house unanimously, 114-0 in February.

State lawmakers left Tuesday for a week-long Easter recess, without acting on HB13.

Special classes such as art, music, and P.E. are on the chopping block along with those teachers' jobs as local school districts craft their budgets with HB13 hanging in the balance.

Wake County Superintendent Dr. James Merrill said unless the bill passes and districts are allowed the flexibility in spending state dollars as they've always had, it would be nearly impossible to protect those programs.

"I may be without a job," said Jenni Sonstroem, a WCPSS elementary music teacher in Apex.

Sonstroem was among other teachers and parents who lobbied senators at the General Assembly last week, after she got a letter from her principal letting her know funding for her position is at stake if HB13 doesn't pass.

"I've never in 30 years seen these kinds of shifts in funding," said Sonstroem. "And it's like the senators are putting it on the districts to say that they have misused funds and there's no evidence for that."

For years, the General Assembly has appropriated tens of millions of dollars to fund smaller class sizes. But not all school districts have used the money for that purpose.

Shelly Carver, a spokesperson for Sen. Phil Berger, Senate President Pro Tem, told ABC11 that Wake County Schools failing to provide data the state has requested, showing where those state dollars designated for reducing class size have gone, is the main holdup for HB13.

ABC11 checked with WCPSS and a district spokesperson, Lisa Luten, said it had complied with the state's request for data, submitting the survey to staff at the General Assembly in February.

Luten said the district used state funding for classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers, which include art, music, and physical education.


A letter from Merrill to Wake County Commissioners explains the state's largest school district was unable to complete the survey as prompted, because WCPSS doesn't keep track of teacher allotments and spending in the format the state is asking the district to prove.

That lack of information being properly conveyed is leaving county commissioners, who are now faced with filling yet another school budget shortfall, with questions.

"We really need to understand what the district has done with the money that the state gave them to reduce class size," Commissioner Erv Portman told ABC11 at Monday's work session. "We need to understand where that is."

Teachers are pushing back, saying the state's request for funding data is a distraction from the real issue at hand: the passage of HB13.

"I think they're trying to take funding away from the public schools," said Sonstroem. "They knew that the districts -- it would look like the districts weren't complying. They knew that I think going into this because it's not realistic. It's not feasible to say that districts can only spend for those K-3 teaching positions."

As for Craig, she insists no matter what or who is stripped from her child's school, it won't be enough for her family to abandon the public school system.

"I believe in public schools, I've always fought for public schools," she said. "That's what my passion is, is making public schools all that they should be and we'll fight the good fight and won't give up."

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