County school officials explain Basic Education Plan   

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com

ÊÊ  Carter County School System Superintendent, Dallas Williams, on Thursday explained details of the Basic Education Plan in an attempt to eliminate confusion about state mandates concerning class sizes and the number of teachers in the school system. Williams said that the BEP is only a formula, and, therefore, does not allow for unavoidable discrepancies.
  "The state recognizes that the number of BEP positions is not intended to be the number of positions needed to operate the school system. There is no school system, to my knowledge, that operates on the BEP number that you're given. When they (the state Department of Education) came up with the number, it was based on exact numbers, and if a school system had 20, 25, and 30 exactly in all classrooms it would work pretty well," said Williams.
  Passed in 1992 as part of the Educational Improvement Act, the BEP funding formula specifies educational resources required for each local education agency to provide a "basic" level of education for all students. For grades K-3, the maximum average number of students allowed per class equals 25. For every class that exceeds 25 students, the state levies a penalty of $50,000 per class.
  The maximum average number of students allowed per class in grades 4-6 equals 30. For every class that exceeds 30 students, the state levies a penalty of $62,500 per class. The maximum average number of students allowed per class in grades 7-12 equals 35. For every class that exceeds 35 students, the state levies a penalty of $75,000 per class.
  Therefore, a K-3 class may have only five students, and this is allowable as long as the final average for all K-3 classes in a school building does not exceed 20. "... (if you have) a class with 21 students, you're going to have one student more than the average, so you have to set up another class. And, if you don't set up another class, then the state will give you a penalty, which is $2,500 per student. But they wouldn't just penalize you for that one student; they would penalize you for a class, which would be 20 times $2,500 or a $50,000 penalty. And students don't come in those neat little packages of 20. If you had 20 in all classes it would be fine," Williams said.
  The Carter County School System is lacking teachers when the number of teachers in the system is compared to the number that the BEP actually allows. According to Williams, Carter County has 14 less teachers in grades 7-8 than the BEP formula allows; five less art and music teachers; four less physical education teachers; two less librarians; two less counselors; one less system-wide supervisor; three less social workers and one less psychologist.
  "We have cut over 20 positions in the last three years in order to save the county from having to be burdened with an increase in local funding," Williams said. "Our school system maintains four high schools. We have always supported our community schools. Our philosophy is that bigger is not always better ... In order to offer a curriculum that meets the needs of our students, we must hire more teachers than the BEP formula allows. This means that in our secondary programs we will have some extra positions."
  The state Board of Education, in secondary schools, has increased graduation requirements and requirements for remediation programs for the Gateway Exams. The state, however, has provided no additional funding to implement those requirements.
  "We have to set up classes and provide teachers for those students, but they (state officials) don't give you extra money to do that. There are some mandates that are required, but we don't have extra money to do them. We have to use what we call Plato learning; we've got teachers that work with those kids. For example, the band director at Happy Valley - the state doesn't give you money to pay for a band director, so we're using the band director to help remediate those students using the Plato system at Happy Valley. So that's just an example of a teacher that may be looked at by some people as an extra teacher, but actually we're using that teacher to meet a state mandate, and he's doing a goog job."
  Other facts which Williams, and Pat Hicks, assistant superintendent, provided, are:
  * The state has mandated that alternative schools be provided for students in grades 7-12. A smaller pupil/teacher ratio is required for this type of program.
  * Carter County's special education population is at approximately 20 percent. A lower pupil/teacher ratio is necessary to meet the needs of these special students.
  * Carter County has the highest percent of free and reduced lunch in the area. Many of the students require attention that can only be given through reduced pupil/teacher ratio.
  * In addition, state law requires that teachers be given a duty free lunch and a minimum of two-and-one-half hours of planning
   time per week. Without teachers above the BEP number, this could not be accomplished.
  * For safety reasons, the state has limited the number of vocational students per class to an average of 20. This mandate also requires more teachers than the BEP allows.