×

‘Raise my taxes’: Franklin educators, parents protest another year of teacher cuts

  • Guidance counselor Helen Wells (left), along with Mady Savary (center) and Avery Thurber (right), join in the protest outside the city council chambers in Franklin on Monday evening, June 11, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Addison Polonia, 2, came with her older brother and grandmother to walk in the protest on Monday evening, June 11, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Jim Moquin talks to the crowd outside Franklin city council chambers before the meeting to discuss the school budget on Monday, June 11, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Protesters sit on the side of the city council chambers holding their signs inside the Franklin Opera House at the beginning of a meeting to discuss the school budget on Monday, June 11, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff 
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

As a guidance counselor at the Paul Smith School in Franklin, Helen Wells gave her ear, her time and her patience to the kids who needed it most.

The elementary school’s only counselor said she spent hundreds of dollars of her own money each year on shoes, winter jackets and snow pants for students whose families could not afford them. She stayed after hours most days, talking to kids who came to her with concerns about bullying, mental illness, suicide ideation and abuse.

But this year’s $813,832 school budget shortfall has forced Wells to look elsewhere for a place to work. Fourteen staff positions were cut across the Franklin school district’s three schools last month, and Wells’s position was reduced from full- to part-time.

She was one of around 200 people marching from Franklin High School to city hall Monday night to protest the cuts.

“This area is very needy,” Wells said, walking and holding a sign that said “Mental Health Matters.” “I can’t even keep up with all of the kids. Who’s going to look out for them now?”

The 14 job cuts meant the district lost a custodian, three student support aides and 10 professional positions, including multiple guidance counselors and the high school’s only French teacher. The high school’s only music and art teachers were both reduced from full-time to half-time positions.

This is nothing new for Franklin, a property-poor city with a tax cap that spends thousands less per student than the state average but faces regular budget crises.

Last year, four staff cuts in Franklin were proposed, and one employee was laid off. In 2016, 25 cuts were proposed, and 13 employees laid off.

The district’s struggle meet their budgets is partly due to a decrease in state stabilization funding, which in particular helped buoy property-poor cities like Franklin.

The Legislature in 2015 decided to discontinue stabilization grants, a $150 million program, via annual reductions of 4 percent until the grant funds are removed altogether. In Franklin, stabilization once accounted for about half of the $8 million it received in state aid, but its annual allotment is being reduced by about $160,000 a year.

In addition, Franklin’s adequacy grants – a base of $3,600 received from the state for each student – have decreased as enrollment has dropped, a trend evident around the state.

The teacher cuts have meant that students have been forced to take some of their classes online and at other schools – including a computer class that’s required for graduation.

Freshman Jada LePierre said these cuts take a toll on the way students see themselves.

“I’m sick of the stereotype that, ‘Oh, you’re from Franklin – you’re not going to go anywhere. You’re not going to graduate. You’re going to drop out,’ ” LePierre said. “That’s not a burden we should have to bear as kids.”

Freshman Maja Veletanlic, who has been studying French, said she was concerned about how colleges will perceive her if she’s not able to continue studying the language because her teacher was let go.

“Language is something a lot of colleges look for when you’re applying, and if we can’t take it, where does that leave us?” Veletanlic asked.

School board Chairman Tim Dow proposed that the city vote to increase the tax revenue allocated to the schools over the next five years by 12 percent. This would result in 46 percent of the city’s revenue being put toward schools, and 54 percent going to city operations. The funding is currently at a 66 percent/34 percent split.

The change would start with a 4 percent increase to the school funding this year, offering the district approximately $400,000, Dow said. School funding would then increase by 2 percent each year after that, growing by about $235,000 per year.

The school board discussed Dow’s proposal but did not make any decisions.

Steve Bunker, a parent who has three children in the Franklin School District, said he’d be willing to pay additional taxes if it meant providing a better education for his kids.

“I just want enough teachers in the school that our kids need to get into college,” Bunker said. “I’m begging the city to raise my taxes.”

Bunker said that based on city property information from the N.H. employment security website, even an increase of $3.85 a week per household – around a $200 contribution a year – could raise an additional $812,000 in tax revenue. This would involve the Franklin City Council voting to raise the tax cap, which requires two thirds of the council in favor.

The city council next meets June 18 and is expected to finalize the city and school budgets by mid-July.>kern 0pt<