The School Board debated proposed staff reductions in their Dec. 16 budget workshop, expressing concern that younger students may suffer from a loss of one-on-one instruction provided by classroom assistants.
Middle School Budget
Presenting the middle school budget was Principal Richard Zacchilli, who proposed cutting one full-time staff member next year.
The reduction is intended to accommodate declining enrollment – the school’s population will drop next year from 1,019 students to 995 students.
“We look at a variety of factors – enrollment decline, programming and how to best utilize the staff we have. It’s my decision how to move forward with that. We’re going to look at tweaking the schedule to accommodate,” Zacchilli said, noting he wasn’t asked to reduce staff.
The middle school’s proposed budget is $190,769, which represents an increase of $7,980.
Most of the increase is for general school supplies, which are up $3,794 at an average of $29 per student.
“Paper is getting more expensive and the General Science Account is up $2,500 to update our science module kits,” Zacchilli said. “We are also looking to replace damaged white board. All other areas show level funded requests.”
Member Leitha Reilly suggested looking to alternative sources to replace the white boards in order to reduce the $1,200 price tag.
“I think it’s crazy to spend that much money on them,” she said.
Elementary School Cuts
As part of the elementary school budgets, South School Principal Linda Boyd told the Board they are proposing a reduction of four full-time teaching positions (two positions at Matthew Thornton, one position at South School and one position at North School), as well as 49.5 instructional assistant hours.
The elementary school principals agreed their schools could accommodate the loss of instructional assistant hours while continuing to provide the same level of education to their young students, as well as maintaining class sizes.
But members of the Board expressed concern that some students will fall through the cracks without teaching assistants to re-capture their attention and make sure they get one-on-one instruction when needed.
Matthew Thornton Principal Sharon Putney said her teachers are doing more “center activities” than ever before and rotating through activities with small groups to ensure students get the attention and assessment they need.
“Teachers have student leaders, volunteers come in, and with the iPad initiative, one of those stations could be an iPad station,” she said.
“I’m not worried about the teachers adjusting to the change, I’m worried about the students. My concern is, how are students going to be redirected when no one is there to redirect them?” Vice Chairman Nancy Hendricks asked. “I’m concerned with lag time. If we don’t catch those kids right away they space out. I want to know how that child is going to be caught.”
“We had a lot of difficult decisions to make. The assistants have been very much a culture of our building and we value everything they have done for the schools and definitely for our children,” North School Principal Paul Dutton said. “There will be a shift because they have become immersed in the culture, but it’s a shift we’re very confident in. We think our teachers and professional staff can carry that out with differentiated instruction, and along with the support of our reading and special education assistants.”
Member Steve Young thanked the administrators for addressing declining enrollment, saying it’s important for the community to recognize that they have made cuts where necessary to accommodate and that growth will once again occur.
“I want them to remember we downsized appropriately,” he said. “If we grow, we could see a default budget lower than the budget we recommend because we want to add aides back or teachers to a classroom to keep the ratio desired. We appreciate your making these decisions now so that when we need to go to the taxpayers, we can say we reduced when appropriate.”
High School Budget
In presenting the high school budget, Principal Jason Parent proposed cutting three full-time teaching positions to address the school’s declining enrollment while maintaining the level of services offered.
District enrollment next year is anticipated to be 1,560 students with an additional 19 tuition students coming in from Hooksett.
The proposed budget for FY16 is $520,354, which represents a decrease of $5,399 from the FY15 budget, according to Parent.
“Some line items fluctuated to reflect our needs in the next year, such as curriculum areas and supplies. But the intent was to remain level funded, factoring in rising costs and slightly decreased enrollment,” he said. “Career and Technical Education is the largest line item in the budget at $144,000. In the tuition line, the state funding has been restored to 75 percent, which is what the state’s contribution was in the past, up from 60 percent.”
Special Education Costs
Also proposing cuts to staff was Pupil Services Director Kim Carpinone, who recommended as part of the Special Education budget a reduction of 18 hours of special education assistant time at the middle school and completing a reorganization of special education teachers due to the overall decline in enrollment.
“In 2011, I was ready to go to the Superintendent with the recommendation to reduce staff, but then had a discussion and decided we were going to a brand new case management model and it was not the time to reduce because we needed to make sure we could support students,” Carpinone said. “This reduction is based on my own assessment.”
The assistants whose hours are to be reduced are not those assisting students one-on-one with a particular learning disability – they come from a pool of assistant time where adults are assisting inclusionary students, who account for a population Carpinone said is dramatically decreasing in numbers.
“We’re basically reducing our daily assistants from 44 bodies to 31 bodies,” she said.
To maintain the level of services offered, particularly as the District has seen a significant increase in the population of children with autism, Carpinone also proposed an increase in one full-time special education teacher for the Friends 2 Program, which serves the District’s autism population; as well as a full-time facilitator at Matthew Thornton to oversee PALS, for intellectually disabled students, which will also see a significant increase in enrollment next year.
The full-time special education teacher is expected to cost $67,000, or $17,000 after subtracting the cost savings achieved through reducing special education assistant hours; and the Special Education Coordinator is expected to cost $101,000 for salary and benefits.
The total special education budget is $2.9 million, which represents an increase of $135,802 due to an increase in the cost of out-of-district tuition expenses.
“Those unexpected, un-budgeted placements we have now have been budgeted for next year,” Carpinone said.
The District has realized $61.1 million in cost savings since FY06 by providing for students’ special educational needs in the District.
“It requires significant staffing and expertise, but it allows for a significant cost saving, and most important to me, a better education in the community in which those kids live,” Carpinone said.
This year 20 students were placed out-of-district due to inability to educate them in the District because of their needs. Of those 20 students, two were placed out by court order.
“Some students are placed out because of discipline – at the middle and high school age there are students who can’t follow the rules and lost the privilege of attending, but we are still federally mandated to provide education,” Carpinone said. “Some have such significant medical needs we can’t safely provide for them in the schools. They have such intense disabilities they require a level of staffing and support in an environment much smaller than our high school can provide.”
The School District serves 709 special education students and has a population of students on the Autism Spectrum coping with mental health issues that is higher than the state average.
Of the special education population, one-third of the students are dealing with more than one area of disability, which impacts the amount and complexity of support needed for students, according to Carpinone.
“On a very positive note, 72 percent of our seniors went on to post-secondary education,” she said, noting that percentage includes some students who will have supported adult living experiences, remaining with the District until age 21, as well as students for whom post-secondary education was never a realistic expectation.
Music Program Costs
Also detailed during the budget workshop were costs associated with the District’s music program.
Music Director Andy Soucy said the budget includes learning materials for the elementary schools, funded at $2,500 for Matthew Thornton, $2,400 for North School, and $2,500 for South School; as well as $11,000 for supplies for the middle school.
Additionally, $2,000 is allocated to the middle school for transportation of performance groups to various events.
High school allocations include $11,500 for repairs to equipment and fees for participation in All-State and Jazz festivals, as well as $7,100 for band uniforms and $15,000 for transportation.
Even though the District supports the school’s performance groups, it’s still expensive for students to participate – they have to pay for their instrument, shoes, and in some cases, travel.
“There are a lot of out-of-pocket expenses involved,” said Soucy, noting Friends of Music does a lot of fundraising to help pay for various trips, and the band is often sponsored when invited to participate in parades and other performances in outside communities.
Following each of the budget presentations, board member John Laferriere asked administrators if they had been asked to reduce staff and if they were comfortable with the cuts proposed in their budgets.
The administrators all echoed the same sentiment – the staffing cuts proposed are their own and the result of declining enrollment, and they are confident class sizes and services offered will be maintained through staffing re-organization and re-adjustment in the schools.