The Hippo


May 27, 2020








The cost of teaching
Manchester school budget talks underway

By Ryan Lessard

 The Manchester School Board, the superintendent and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen are meeting this month to craft a budget to fund the state’s largest school district. While taxes have increased under the city’s tax cap, the exodus of Hooksett high school students and a possible reduction in state aid could leave Manchester schools unable to fund new positions at the middle-school level and prepare for a growing need in the Manchester School of Technology.

Last month, when Mayor Ted Gatsas unveiled his budget, he touted the implementation of full-day kindergarten, the pilot S.T.E.A.M. Ahead magnet program at West High and the “ongoing success” of the Manchester School of Technology.
But most importantly, Gatsas said he would put all $2.6 million raised from the 1.33-percent city tax increase into the school district.
“A true fact of this budget is that expenditures at the school district have increased while the expenditures in the city have decreased,” Gatsas said in a press release.
The school district budget came to about $161 million under Gatsas’ plan.
District needs
Meanwhile, the school board and Superintendent Deborah Livingston are asking for $164 million.
“We proposed our budget around our district goals and our strategic plan. We also looked very closely at our need for additional teachers,” Livingston said.
She said the district needs to hire 11 teachers for both Hillside and Southside Middle Schools, with a combined salary of about $550,000. That’s not including some special education teachers, paraprofessionals and speech pathologists she said the district needs.
She also said the MST needs a dean of students with a salary of about $90,000 and an administrative assistant. But with the high school population shrinking from the loss of Hooksett students, she sees the potential to move some teachers from the regular high schools into MST as needed.
“At MST, we’re growing, which is a good problem to have. The school services about 1,200 students a day,” Livingston said.
But these new positions might not be funded under the mayor’s plan. Livingston said that $2.7 million of the roughly $5 million increase over the current budget she’s proposing are slated for an increase in retirement buy-in and healthcare costs. And she said those are a top priority for any budget to fund the district.
Livingston said if the district can’t find the money to hire at least the 11 middle-school teachers, class sizes will likely increase beyond the state standard of 30 students.
Alderman Joyce Craig, a Democrat who plans to run against Gatsas in the coming election, is concerned about that.
“There would be about 30 to 40 middle-school classes that would be above the state standard for class sizes,” Craig said. “[Gatsas’ budget] doesn’t allow for any hiring of staff.”
She also wants to see the Spanish program come back for middle schools.
“It’s interesting, Hollis recently had a vote in their community ... to keep Spanish in the elementary schools and yet we don’t have it in our middle schools,” Craig said.
Losing Hooksett
And looming over these budget talks is a recent contract signed and approved by Hooksett residents to send their high-school-age children to Pinkerton Academy in Derry. This follows the end of a nearly 100-year relationship between Manchester and Hooksett after Hooksett parents cried foul at crowded Manchester classrooms and used that as a pretext to exit the contract early.
“The district is losing a little more than $1.2 million [for the next fiscal year] because of the decline of students coming from Hooksett,” Craig said. “It’s a huge loss, that student population. They added great value and still do.”
While Hooksett’s deal with Pinkerton is for 10 years, Craig is hopeful Manchester can restore ties with Hooksett.
“I believe there’s always room to buildthat relationship back,” Craig said.
The school district’s business administrator, Karen DeFrancis, said Hooksett’s per-student tuition is currently $10,200 and will go up to $10,404 next year. And while that money will be going away with every student the district loses to Pinkerton, the district is predicting long-term enrollment growth after a low of 14,941 in 2017. By 2023, she said the New England School Development Council estimates enrollment will rebound by more than 360 students.
State aid
But these vacillations in enrollment affect the money the city gets from the state. Manchester relies on the state for more than a third of its overall district budget, which amounts to roughly $56 million this year.
Earlier versions of the state budget approved by the House Finance Committee would have reduced Manchester’s aid by about $4 million, but the version that ultimately passed the House keeps funding relatively level for fiscal year 2016, according to Michael Kane, the deputy legislative budget assistant.
Kane said the formula calculating adequacy grants was not changed in the House budget for both years, so changes would be based on student population and eligibility for free and reduced lunch aid. However, Kane said Manchester’s stabilization grant for fiscal year 2017 would be reduced by $1.2 million when districts see a 10-percent decrease statewide. From fiscal years 2014 through 2015, stabilization grants for Manchester have remained the same at about $12.45 million. The Senate has yet to craft its own version of the budget.
Meanwhile, a bill that passed the Senate and the House Education Committee would, among other things, extend the free and reduced lunch program to kindergarten. More than 55 percent of Manchester’s roughly 13,200 post-kindergarten students are currently eligible. That’s more than 7,000. The state funding formula calls for $1,781 in aid for each eligible student. If the district’s kindergarten population follows the same ratio of eligibility, that could mean an additional $1 million going to Manchester. The full House votes on the bill next. 
As seen in the April 16, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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