Although the School District’s proposed fiscal year 2017 budget includes another reduction in staff, Superintendent Nate Greenberg said a boom in development could mean the District will begin looking to add positions next year.
“This is the lowest reduction in staff we’ve proposed in many years. We will be doing a facilities study, and I anticipate in short order we will be coming to the Board for additional staffing because we anticipate enrollment going back up,” he said. “We left breathing room at North School because we know we have a number of preschoolers coming out and going to North. How quickly Woodmont (Commons development) turns around will also have an impact on us, there’s no doubt about that.”
Greenberg noted during the Board’s Dec. 10 budget workshop that the District has seen a drop in enrollment for the last six years between December and January, but he doesn’t anticipate that trend will continue this year.
“We have people register at the SAU (School Administrative Unit) office instead of the individual schools so we can keep track, and it’s a daily occurrence now,” he said.
As part of the District’s proposed FY17 budget, Greenberg said they are proposing a net staff reduction of three certified positions at a cost savings of $187,696.
Those reductions include a teaching position at Matthew Thornton Elementary School and South Elementary School, as well as half a full-time equivalent teaching position at the middle school and two full-time equivalent positions at the high school.
Additions to the budget include half a LEEP (Londonderry Early Education Program) teaching position to address a substantial increase in enrollment at Moose Hill School, as well as six special education assistant hours broken into three-hour blocks, and a 504 case manager at the high school to manage an upsurge in the number of students who qualify for 504 services (modifications to help students, generally dealing with a health issue, to succeed in the traditional educational setting).
Greenberg said with 97 students at the high school who require 504 services, it’s imperative the District hire a case manager to serve them.
Additionally, the District is proposing stipends for Drama and Student Council, which Greenberg said “have taken off” at the elementary level and require a substantial time commitment outside advisors’ work hours.
In addressing the District’s efforts to “right-size staff” as enrollment has declined, Greenberg said since 2006, the District has seen a net reduction of 65.2 certified staff members, a 20 percent reduction in staff.
With a net reduction of 149 full-time equivalent positions, the District has reduced one position for every drop in enrollment of 8.9 students, or a 20 percent reduction in staff for every 24 percent decline in enrollment.
Still, considering the reduction, Greenberg said with the teaching assistant hours the voters replaced in the budget last year, as well as 24 full-time Special Education teachers, there is a one adult to 9.5 student ratio in grades 1-3 at the elementary schools.
Chairman Steve Young said putting himself in the shoes of an older resident who is new to town, he wonders if the District could save money on taxes by increasing the 9:1 adult to student ratio at the elementary schools.
“When I was in school, it was more like a 25 students to one teacher ratio,” he said.
“It will decrease our ability to deliver services and decrease our ability to meet federal and state standards. The issues teachers are dealing with, to be very blunt, are far more than what they were dealing with 20 years ago,” Greenberg said. “Going back to when I was in school, we were looking at 30 to 40 percent dropout rates. I don’t think as a community, a state or a nation we can afford to have dropout rates of 30 to 40 percent and survive economically. To get us to that point, we need to deliver services to students, and the way to deliver services to students is through people.”
Greenberg noted that with the proposed staffing levels, the District is trying to meet the needs of all students, over the full range of educational ability.
“I do think we’re delivering,” he said. “Last year’s graduating class met our goal a year early for college acceptance rate, we have a dropout rate of less than a third of 1 percent and the Niche organization, which rates schools, placed us in the top 4 percent nationally.”
Business Administrator Peter Curro said they invested a significant amount of time with each of the schools’ administrators discussing class sizes.
“We know where the money is,” he said. “I can tell you, much more than 50 percent of the time we spend is going over personnel resources. When we put this together, we come out as a team – not all in agreement for everything, but as a District, this is the best plan to ensure the quality of services we think the Town wants.”