| December 07, 2017
By CAMERON PAQUETTE
CLAREMONT — The formation of next year’s school district budget continued Wednesday as upward of 30 residents and school staff attended a meeting of the school board to voice their concerns over proposed staff cuts.
“Budgets are a give and take, and I think there’s plenty of give and take that can be had in this community,” said resident Tom Rock. “The student comes first.”
Rock and several others spoke of the importance of maintaining the quality of education across the school district. Claremont Development Authority Vice President Andrew Lafreniere pointed to the impact schools can have on the economic development of the community.
“We don’t want to come out of this process with a situation where the schools are perceived as less than adequate,” Lafreniere said, adding that when it came to making cuts, “I would urge that you use a scalpel, instead of a machete.”
After a directive from the school board in September to find cuts totaling $1.2 million from the current budget, school administration proposed a budget with more than $1.7 million in increases over the current budget at the Nov. 15 meeting. That budget was finalized two hours before the meeting and, as a result, didn’t follow the school board’s directive.
Administrators on Wednesday brought the board a draft budget of $30,264,458, which is $1,212,788 lower than the current budget — in line with the original school board directive to chop $1.73 off the tax rate — as well as a recommended budget of $31,148,256 that would feature $328,990 in cuts, equaling roughly $0.47 off the tax rate.
A spreadsheet passed around to board members and the public featured a number of line items that would feature cuts or adjustments under the school board directive budget, along adjustments per the recommendations of the administration — both draft budgets would come in lower than the approved 2017-2018 operating budget of $31,477,247 including warrant articles.
The most significant change came in the Technology Equipment line, which would see a $1,075,000 cut under the board directive budget or a $775,000 cut in the administration’s recommended budget. All personnel cost reductions presented included the wages and benefits for that particular position.
Positions affected under the $1.2 million cut that wouldn’t be affected in the $328,990 cut included curriculum specialist ($96,827), the school resource officer ($42,800), an unfilled maintenance position ($53,420), a teaching position at the elementary level ($75,000), and a social worker at the middle school ($78,326).
Positions affected under both proposed drafts include the removal of two part-time crisis counselors ($32,500), a school psychologist that would be replaced with contracted services (net $51,238 decrease), reduction of four paraprofessional positions ($80,000), an administrative assistant at the high school ($52,775), a director of adult education ($55,000), a district-wide energy education specialist ($7,500), and an assistant athletic director for the middle school ($28,413).
In response to concerns that the school administration is too “top heavy,” a sheet comparing administration and instruction support staff between the Claremont, Kearsarge, Lebanon, Newport and Fall Mountain was distributed. That sheet indicated that the ratio of students to administrative and instructional support staff was actually higher than the other districts — 72 students per staff member compared to 69, 52, 45, and 38 for Fall Mountain, Kearsarge, Newport and Lebanon, respectively.
However, charts showing the trend in school district full-time employee counts for teachers and administrative staff shows an average decline over the years from 2008 to 2018 as opposed to a roughly level trend line for administrative staff.
The spectre of the budget was ever-present throughout the evening. During a discussion with City Manager Ryan McNutt, the city manager commented in general on the symbiotic relationship between school districts and municipalities. While the current tax rate may be prohibitively high for potential incoming residents, McNutt said, the quality of school districts also factors high in decision making for prospective residents considering a move to the city.
“Some of the communities I’ve come from would be envious of the assets in the Claremont School District,” McNutt said.
Toward the beginning of the meeting, SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin also drew the board’s attention to the Senate Bill 193, which would create a school choice voucher program that could have substantial impact on property poor municipalities like Claremont. The bill, along with annual decreases in state adequacy aid and other fixed cost increases, could put strain on the district going forward.
If the bill were to pass, parents of students from households with income at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level, who have an Individualized Education Plan, who attend poor-performing schools, or who were not admitted to a charter school would be eligible to use public money to send those students to private schools.
McGoodwin’s concern about the bill centered around eligibility — with a large pool of the school district’s students eligible for a voucher under the bill and the inability, due to low property values, to offset the potential loss of enrollment, the potential funding shortfall could put Claremont and other similarly situated communities in a bleak financial position.
“The concern is that the largest pool of [eligible] students will come from that pool,” McGoodwin said of the bill. “There is a serious possibility that there would be a drawdown in funding to the Claremont School District.”
No motions were made at Wednesday’s budget, and discussion is set to continue at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 20.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) will not decimate public school budgets, a report released today by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy shows. In fact, even using a high average cost for each ESA and a high ESA take up rate of 5 percent, the report shows that every school district in New Hampshire would keep more than 98 percent of its operating budget.
“Education Savings Accounts will not defund traditional public schools,” Josiah Bartlett Center Interim President Andrew Cline said. “Even using opponents’ most dire prediction, in which 5 percent of New Hampshire students take advantage of ESAs to pursue educational opportunities outside of their assigned district, districts hold on to more than 98 percent of their funding.”
The report, “Will Education Savings Accounts Decimate Public Schools? Putting ESA Funding in Context,” used a high average ESA cost that included what is called “differentiated aid,” the extra funding for students that have additional needs, such as having an Individualized Education Program or being eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Under Senate Bill 193, the ESA bill being considered in the Legislature, ESA funding would consist of 95 percent of a student’s state base adequate education grant plus most differentiated aid, if eligible.
Based on a high average ESA cost, the report calculates the financial impact on school districts if 1 percent or 5 percent of students choose an ESA. The report finds that if 1 percent of students leave statewide, school districts keep 99.7 percent of their operating budgets. If 5 percent of students leave, districts keep 98.7 percent of their budgets. Even under the 5 percent scenario, every district keeps more than 98 percent of its budget. These figures show the financial impact without the stabilization grants that are included in the latest House version of the bill. With those grants, the impact would be even smaller.
The report also considers whether a 1 percent or 5 percent enrollment decline would be unusually large. Looking back at state enrollment data from 2010-2015, the report finds that the average enrollment change over that time was a drop of 7 percent. That average decline is 40 percent larger than the 5 percent decline that some ESA opponents have used to portray ESAs as a massive threat to public school districts.
The report also calculates the amount of stabilization grant money each district would receive under the latest version of Senate Bill 193. The House version of the bill would distribute stabilization grants if a district loses at least 1/4 of 1 percent of its state adequate education grant funding. The grants would replace everything above 1/4 of 1 percent. The report shows how much money each district would receive in stabilization grants if 1 percent or 5 percent of students choose an ESA. If 1 percent of students choose an ESA, the stabilization grant would come to $950 per ESA. If 5 percent of students choose an ESA, the stabilization grant would come to $3,666 per ESA.
For the full report, click here: