Our Turn: A painful exercise in education funding

  • In this Dec. 21, 2016, Monitor file photo, seventh- and eighth-graders listen to English teacher Chris Davitt (center) during an interdisciplinary humanities block at Pittsfield Middle High School. Monitor file

For the Monitor
Published: 1/12/2020 7:00:58 AM
Modified: 1/12/2020 7:00:15 AM

Our state constitution makes our state government responsible for educating New Hampshire’s children.

After decades of neglect in the mid- and late 20th century, the N.H. Supreme Court reaffirmed this constitutional obligation in the Claremont decisions, beginning in 1993 and continuing into the early 2000s. In those decisions, the Supreme Court said that all New Hampshire children have the fundamental right to a comprehensive education that will enable them to compete in the 21st century’s global “marketplace of ideas.” The court spelled out the four tasks that the Legislature and governor must fulfill to meet this obligation: define a constitutionally adequate education, determine its cost, fund it with state taxes at uniform rates across the state and implement an accountability system to measure the results and require improvements when needed.

Since those decisions, the legislatures and governors of both political parties never honestly determined the actual cost of providing the education required by the constitution.

The formula the state used for the 2018-19 school year stated that an adequate education could be provided for a base $3,636 per student and also provided small supplements for each special education student, each low-income student and each English-language learner. After adding the supplements, the state said an adequate education should average $4,502 per student.

The true total expenditure per student in 2018-19 was about $19,000.

These two articles show how the 2018-19 school budgets would have had to be changed to get down to what the state considered adequate for Hopkinton and Pittsfield districts.

(John Tobin and Doug Hall are members of the New Hampshire School Funding Fairness Project.)

‘Adequacy’ in Hopkinton

(By Steve Chamberlin, Michelle Clark and Doug Hall)

The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined in its Claremont decisions that it is the state’s constitutional obligation to ensure that every child has access to an “adequate” education and that the state must pay for it.

As a result, every year the state calculates a cost that it believes will be sufficient to provide an “adequate” education for all students in each town.

For Hopkinton, last school year the state claimed that $3,774,259 would be sufficient.

Hopkinton’s school budget last year was $20,000,471 – more than five times what the state had decided was adequate. We decided to see how the actual budget would have had to be cut to bring it down to the state’s “adequate” budget of $3,774,259.

During this re-budgeting exercise, we made every attempt to keep in place as much of the “core” teaching as possible at all grade levels. We made the following changes:

■Eliminated all two art teachers and art classes

■Eliminated all reading support

■Eliminated elementary math support

■Eliminated all three physical education teachers and physical education classes

■Eliminated elementary guidance and all but one secondary faculty

■Eliminated all technology support

■Eliminated all three library media specialists

■Eliminated two of the four elementary and secondary building administrators

■Eliminated 7½ custodial staff, leaving only two

■Eliminated all behavior support

■Eliminated all 29 special education support staff/teachers aids/paraprofessionals

■Eliminated three positions providing nursing services

■Eliminated field trips

■Eliminated all transportation (to and from school, vocational, special education)

■Eliminated world language classes

■Eliminated all interscholastic athletics

■Eliminated all extracurricular activities

■Eliminated the middle school guidance counselor

■Eliminated the supervised out of school suspension program

■Eliminated all department head stipends

■Eliminated speech/language, PT, OT and vision services for special needs students

■Eliminated the student assistant program counselor

■Eliminated the Engineering Program

■Eliminated Family and Consumer Science

■Eliminated Wood Technology

■Eliminated accreditation fees

■Eliminated independent studies

■Eliminated the substitute coordinator

■Reduced the superintendent of schools to one day per week.

■Eliminated all support for the Concord Regional Technical Center classes

■Eliminated all curriculum development funds

■Eliminated out-of-district tuition

■Reduced office support to one person per building.

After all these reductions the budget was still far above the target level.

To reduce this further to the state’s stated “cost of an adequate education” required us to cut out much more. Having already removed almost everything else, this further reduction required eliminating 26 classroom teachers: half of the elementary teachers and half of the secondary math, English, social studies and science teachers.

Class sizes in all schools would then have been 35 to 40. But we were still $325,000 above what the state law says would have been “adequate” for Hopkinton’s kids.

How can anyone not laugh at such a definition?

(Steve Chamberlin is the superintendent of the Hopkinton School District. Michelle Clark is the business administrator of the Hopkinton School District. Doug Hall is a member of the New Hampshire School Funding Fairness Project.)

‘Adequacy’ in Pittsfield

(By John Freeman and Doug Hall)

For Pittsfield last school year, the state claimed that $2,690,333 would be sufficient.

Pittsfield’s school budget last year was $10,302,402, nearly four times what the state had decided was adequate. Here’s how the actual budget would have had to be cut to bring it down to the state’s “adequate” budget of $2,690,333.

During this re-budgeting exercise, we made every attempt to keep in place as much of the “core” teaching as possible at all grade levels. We made the following changes:

■Eliminated five of the 16 teachers at the elementary school

■Eliminated all art, music and physical education classes in all grades

■Eliminated all school nurses and any medical support

■Eliminated all regular and special education transportation services (parents to transport their children to and from school)

■Eliminated one of the two office secretaries at the elementary school

■Eliminated one of the two office secretaries at the middle/high school

■Eliminated teachers for Business Education, Family and Consumer Science, and Health

■Eliminated one of four science teachers at the middle/high school, thus eliminating some labs and electives

■Eliminated all building and grounds maintenance and repairs

■Eliminated student participation in Concord Regional Technical Center classes

■Eliminated all foreign language courses

■Eliminated both counselor/behavioral support professionals and both support positions

■Eliminated four of eight custodians, reducing building cleaning to twice per week at best

■Eliminated health insurance and other benefits in current teacher contract

■Eliminated all field trips

■Eliminated all athletic programs: soccer, basketball, softball and baseball

■Eliminated the district reading specialist

■Eliminated 34½ paraprofessional positions, including special education teacher aides

■Eliminated purchase of equipment, supplies, books, subscriptions, technology apps, etc.

■Eliminated ESOL program (English for speakers of other languages)

■Eliminated all substitute teachers, thus requiring students to be dismissed

■Eliminated three special education teachers

■Eliminated provisions for teacher development university courses, workshops, etc.

■Eliminated mentor teachers who support new teachers

■Eliminated all technology personnel, equipment, training, etc.

■Eliminated consulting specialists such as vision specialists and psychologists

■Eliminated travel reimbursement (training events, statewide meetings, home visits, etc.)

■Eliminated all co-curricular programs (clubs, activities, student council, etc.)

■Eliminated the summer recreation program

■Eliminated all guidance personnel

■Eliminated substance abuse counselor

■Eliminated speech/language, PT, OT, and vision services for special needs students

■Eliminated stipend for teachers’ summertime work on innovation and development

■Eliminated stipends for teacher leaders

■Eliminated all librarians and media center staff and close media centers

■Eliminated school board stipends

■Eliminated school board expenses, including lawyers and auditing services

■Reduced time of superintendent to one day per week

■Eliminated all photocopiers and their supplies

■Eliminated maintenance of athletic field

■Eliminated one school principal, leaving only one for both school buildings

■Eliminated all office incidentals: (postage, supplies, advertising, etc.)

After all these reductions the budget was still $5,289,610 and the average class size would have been 29 students.

To reduce this further to get down to the state’s stated “cost of an adequate education” required us to cut out another $2.6 million. Having already removed almost everything else, this further reduction required eliminating nearly half of the remaining classroom teachers. Class sizes in elementary, middle school and high school then would have approached 60 students per teacher.

This is what the state law says would have been “adequate” for Pittsfield’s kids.

(John Freeman is the superintendent of the Pittsfield School District. Doug Hall is a member of the New Hampshire School Funding Fairness Project.)




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