After much debate over a proposed reduction in teaching assistant hours, voters at Friday night’s Deliberative Session amended the Londonderry School District’s operating budget to include an additional $240,000 for classroom assistants.
The voters at the session also turned back an effort to reduce funding for an architecture and engineering study for a proposed auditorium, and cut all funding to a citizen petition related to student transportation.
The addition to the budget would fund instructional assistants for three hours per day at the elementary level, an increase of approximately 1.5 hours above the number of hours supported in the current school year.
The teaching assistants are needed to help the struggling learner and the student who is proficient but needs additional support, and to enable children who are advanced to move on, said Donna Traynham of 11 Faucher Road, who proposed the amendment, arguing a reduction in teaching assistants at the elementary level would jeopardize the District’s ability to prepare all students adequately for high school and the future.
“We don’t cost a lot. We don’t get benefits, we don’t get a lot of hours, and we don’t get retirement. The return you get on this investment is huge. Why do you want to cut this out when it’s such a small portion of budget? The more human resources you can put in the classroom the better,” said Deb Villars, who has worked as a classroom assistant for 14 years. “Kids need attention. The makeup of classrooms has changed dramatically. Both parents are working and the support they are getting is less than when my kids were in school.”
The additional teaching assistant hours increase the budget four hours above the budgeted amount for teaching assistants at the elementary level.
Superintendent Nate Greenberg said as the District has seen enrollment decline, officials have worked to right-size, while retaining certified staff and maintaining class sizes.
“We have seen a 24 percent drop in staff since 2006,” he said. “It comes out to one full-time teaching equivalent for every drop in enrollment of 22.3 students. We have matched our decline in students with our decline in staffing, maintained class sizes, reorganized, and improved our high school dropout rate to 0.36 percent and our college acceptance rate is over 99 percent.”
Traynham argued the District’s low high school drop-out rate and high rate of students moving on to post-graduate education at two- and four-year institutions applies to students who benefitted from a more robust budget that supported teaching assistants in the classroom.
“Now, the budget is not as robust and the expectations of what we want teachers to do in the classroom have skyrocketed,” she said. “Please send the message we think our children are worth every penny.”
“Do you feel there’s a deficiency in the budget?” State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry asked Greenberg.
“I do not believe there’s a deficiency in the budget,” he responded.
Still, an overwhelming majority of the 164 registered voters in attendance passed the article as amended to the Warrant.
As amended, the budget, Article 2, is $67,774,153 and has an estimated tax impact of $12.63 per thousand. The default budget is $67,906,417 and has an estimated tax impact of $12.69.
Following the Deliberative Session, the School Board took a vote on the amended budget.
The Board voted 1-4 on the question of recommending Article 2 to the voters, with Nancy Hendricks the sole vote in favor of supporting the amended budget.