Franklin faces more school cuts as some push for lawsuit against state

  • Junior band captain Caitlyn Fisher plays her drum during band class at Franklin High School on Thursday, May 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Franklin High School students (left to right) Krishna Clark, Chris Carlson, RJ Soboslai and Caitlyn Fisher play drums during band class Thursday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Freshman chorus lieutenant RJ Soboslai plays his drums during band class at Franklin High School on Thursday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Freshman Taylor Withers plays with other students during band class at Franklin High School on Thursday, May 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Published: 5/30/2018 1:34:21 PM

Depending on the scheduling block, anywhere from 5 to 30 kids sit in study hall at Franklin High, said principal Carrie Charette. That’s because they’ve taken all the classes available during that block of time – or because the classes they may otherwise take are full.

So they read, scroll through their phones, sometimes nap. There’s just nothing else for them to do.

“It really sucks when you’re sitting there thinking that you could be doing another class. You could be doing the credits that you need to graduate. But because we don’t have the staff members, you can’t do anything. So you’re just sitting there. Waiting for something,” said junior Krishna Clark.

The problem could get worse. Facing yet another budget shortfall, the Franklin school district is considering shedding even more teachers next year and further reducing programming.

The school district eliminated seven positions – including the high school’s only French teacher – earlier this month to help make up a $813,832 budget shortfall, superintendent Daniel LeGallo said, and plans not to fill an additional six vacant positions.

A deeply property-poor city with a tax-cap, Franklin spends thousands less per student than the state average and faces regular budget crises. And that trend has some officials saying it’s time to re-evaluate the way New Hampshire funds its schools, which remains heavily reliant on local property taxes.

“It’s time for a lawsuit,” city manager Judie Milner said. “There’s no other way to do it.”

LeGallo, Milner and several members of the city council will be attending a workshop on the state’s education funding system June 13, led by Executive Councilor Andru Volinksy, the lead attorney on a series of landmark state Supreme Court cases out of Claremont that established the state’s responsibility to fund an “adequate” education.

Volinsky has pledged not to sue the state again while in office. But John Tobin, a retired attorney who also served on the Claremont case, has said he’s considering launching another suit against the state, and is recruiting interested attorneys and plaintiffs.

The workshop will be held in Pittsfield, another school district that has long struggled to cobble together a budget from the revenue brought in from state and local taxes. The Pittsfield school board has already decided to make six personnel cuts to its administrative and teaching staff this year, including all of its foreign language teachers.

LeGallo said the districts’ struggle to meet their budgets is partly due to a decrease in state stabilization funding, which in particular helped buoy property-poor cities and towns like Franklin and Pittsfield.

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 – has decreased as enrollment has dropped, a trend that’s evident around the state.

This has made teacher cuts a regular occurrence instead of an anomaly, LeGallo said.

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.

A new education funding lawsuit would be something that Franklin would support, LeGallo said.

“That would be a long-term, down the road solution,” he said.

The seven layoffs planned for next year in Franklin included a French teacher and a math teacher at the high school, a behavior specialist and a custodian at the elementary school and an eighth-grade teacher, a student support room aide, and a staffer who worked in the in-school suspension room at the middle school.

Six more unfilled positions in the form of student aides, guidance councilors and a secretary were also cut, and two teachers at the high school who teach courses in chorus, band, drawing and painting were downgraded from a full-day to a half-day schedule, the superintendent said.

Charette likes to tout all the creative ways the school makes do, even on a shoe-string budget. It began a partnership with Winnisquam Regional High School this year, for example, so that classes offered on one campus but not the other are now available to the other school’s students. Because the districts are essentially trading one class for another, and using a bus already running students to a nearby tech center, it doesn’t cost an extra dime. And the school is constantly seeking and receiving grants.

But the school has been put on warning by its accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, specifically because of its lack of funds. And the district’s ever-shrinking resources often keep her up at night.

“If I go down to 16 teachers next year? Oh my god. I’m getting heart palpitations,” she said.

Downgrading full-time teachers to part-time is a way to conserve as many course offerings as possible for students, Charette said. But it still means less. And it also means that anything sponsored by those teachers afterschool can’t happen.

In the music room at Franklin High, the white board is written over with a list of activities,
performances, and fundraising events the band and chorus do
outside of school hours. Holiday
assemblies, community parades, in-town caroling, the Lakes Region Music Festival, even the graduation performance – none of that is possible without a full-time staff member.

Kids worry about not being able to fit music into their schedule if courses are offered less often or not at all. But they also wonder: what’s the point of a band that can’t perform for people?

“We pretty much become a department without a purpose next year,” said freshman Chris Carlson.

The school district is approaching the city council to see if they might be able to find some way to fund those programs back. The next council meeting is June 4, and the budget should be finalized by mid-July.

“I’m hopeful that some of these positions will come back to us,” LeGallo said. “If we can get some money, we’ll bring them back.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)




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