Keeping class sizes in those grades at the cap level could be done largely by relocating teachers within school districts, which has been done by school boards in past years, Ramona Jennex said Thursday after a cabinet meeting.
The province moved the cap to 27 from 25 last year, but it is now allowing schools in those grades to have classes of up to 29 students.
"We have a cap in place and we gave the flexibility of up to 29," said Jennex. "No class is going to exceed that number in this province."
She said the cap will also be maintained in schools where there have been acute pressures, such as on the South Shore and in the Halifax area.
Jennex didn't rule out the possibility of hiring new teachers but she said that would involve making a case for more funding to the Treasury Board.
"I'm making a commitment to make sure that we have the appropriate amount of staff in our school system," she added.
The province has cited declining enrolment as its primary reason for reduced funding to the province's eight school boards over the past two years. The government cut $13.4 million this year on the heels of a $17.6-million reduction in funding last year.
The cuts outraged the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, causing its past president to demand Jennex's resignation in
April, accusing her of not fighting hard enough for public education at cabinet.
Shelley Morse, the union's new president, gave credit to Jennex on Thursday for realizing there is a problem with class sizes, but she said relocating teachers would only go so far.
"The real issue here is that the government cutbacks have left the boards with not enough money to meet the needs of our students and now there are too few teachers to keep class sizes at reasonable limits," said Morse, adding the minister's commitment did not address class sizes in grades not covered by the cap.
Jennex said the Education Department is still waiting for final class size numbers from the province's school boards before considering its options.
The problems facing the department also aren't restricted to overcrowding, she said, with one Halifax district school reporting that it only had seven students. A department spokesman later said the school was Eastern Consolidated Elementary in Moser River.
"This is to say that we have challenges on both ends of the spectrum," Jennex said.
Morse said the union has lost 700 teaching positions over two years, mostly through attrition.
She said Jennex had mentioned the possibility of hiring new teachers with the union.
"I would hope that would be the solution they would be looking at because we certainly need more teachers in our schools," said Morse.