School Warrant Articles Receive Board Approval

The School Board voted to support and move to Deliberative Session the Superintendent’s proposed budget, despite calls for the board to restore teaching assistant hours.

“I spoke with teachers and instructional assistants who said that loss will be tremendous to students of the District,” Donna Traynham of 11 Faucher Road said. “If it’s a $150,000 cut, can’t we sustain it?”

The $67.5 million operating budget, Article 2, which represents a $12.59 impact per thousand on the tax rate, saw a reduction of 49.5 hours of daily instructional assistant hours to address declining enrollment and downshifted costs from the State.

Superintendent Nate Greenberg said the District has been able to reduce the ratio of certified teachers to students because they have made a conscious effort to maintain certified staff. In moving forward with the new model, schools will conduct initial screenings of students when they enter first grade, identifying at-risk students.

“What indicators from the pilot suggest this will provide better outcomes than what we have with instructional assistants in the elementary schools? If the pilot is better, what does the rollout look like?” Traynham asked the Board and administration at the Thursday, Jan. 15 meeting. “If it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, I would suggest we’re not ready to eliminate instructional assistants. The research is unequivocally clear; if children are not proficient by elementary school, they are less likely to be ready for high school, or to graduate, or to be ready for the rigors of college.”

“We will be offering summer school to reinforce skills, and offering an extended day for students having difficulties. We will deploy staff appropriately to address skill and competency issues, and we are very comfortable with the model, as are the principals of the elementary schools,” Greenberg said. “This was a joint decision after conversations with administrators at the elementary level and we believe this is a comprehensive model. That’s not to say our instructional assistants have not provided an important service over time.”

Bat Lisa Chase of 18 Devonshire Lane, who has worked in the School District for periods of time over the last nine years, said “what the teachers have to do is incredible.”

Chase expressed concern that students won’t get the individual attention they need, raising the question of how students whose parents work late will be able to access the help they need if their parents aren’t able to pick them up from the after-school program.

“I’m concerned about kids getting the instruction they need,” she said.

Other parents expressed concern that the day will be too long for the younger children in need of enrichment, and that children who are gifted will get bored and fall through the cracks if they don’t have aides in the classroom to help them move on when the class is working at a slower pace.

Asked why the District can’t absorb the money for teaching assistants in the classroom, Greenberg explained the importance of right-sizing staff when enrollment declines.

Additionally, Greenberg noted the District is confident staff numbers are appropriate to accommodate an unexpected increase in enrollment in the middle of the school year.

“As we have responded to declines in enrollment by right-sizing staff appropriately, we hope that when new residential development in town leads to an increase in enrollment, the Town would support our efforts to right-size again and add staff members where needed,” he told the Board and members of the public.

Also moved to deliberative session and supported with unanimous approval by the Board were Article 1, Election of Officers; Article 3, the teachers’ contract for $1.1 million, with a tax impact of $.32 per thousand; Article 4, the Allied Health Professionals contract for $85,321, with a tax impact of $.02 per thousand; Article 5, a special meeting should either the teachers’ or health professionals’ contract fail; Article 6, the School Lunch Program and Federal Fund Projects, with no tax impact, as the funds are self-supporting through local, state and federal revenue sources; Article 7, the School Buildings Maintenance Expendable Trust Fund for $400,000, with a tax impact of $.11 per thousand; Article 8, the Equipment Capital Reserve Fund for $100,000, with no impact to the tax rate; Article 9, the Community Auditorium and Engineering Costs for $500,000, with a tax impact of $.14 per thousand; and Article 10, Co-curricular and Athletic Stipends for $8,069, with a tax impact of $.002 per thousand.

The Articles were passed and supported with little discussion from the public or the board, with the exception of the teachers’ contract.

Budget Committee member Dana Coons asked why teachers will get a 4 percent raise in the second year of the contract when many people in the Town have not seen a raise of that sort, and many seniors are living on fixed incomes.

Member John Laferriere explained that 72 percent of the staff have a Master’s Degree or higher, and 62 percent have over 11 years of experience teaching in the District.

And despite the fact that several other neighboring communities offer their teachers higher pay, including Bedford, Concord and Manchester, Londonderry teachers stay in the District.

“We’re trying to be competitive – we took a look at what the salary schedules would be next year, compared with what they have this year,” Greenberg said.

“You get what you pay for,” member Dan Lekas said. “We’re talking about the children here. There are many years I may not have gotten a raise, but I never made my children go without because of it. And how many people didn’t get a raise and stayed with their employer when there were 16 other places they could go get more money? If you pay too little you will get inferior product and the kids will get an inferior education, and a gentleman like yourself who wants to sell your home and downsize will find no one wants to buy the three-bedroom home with the crappy school system.”

Lekas additionally noted that if the public were to vote against the teachers’ contract, they would have to bring forward another contract and hold another election, which would cost money.

In moving forward the School Lunch Program, Article 6, members of the Board noted the District is in the process of researching alternatives to the federal lunch program.

Deliberative Session will be held Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. in the Londonderry High School Cafeteria.

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