Enrollment dip leads to staff cuts in Concord School District’s $74 million budget

Last modified: 3/16/2014 11:20:21 PM
Continued enrollment decline has prompted Concord School District officials to recommend cutting the equivalent of 12 full-time positions from next year’s budget. Superintendent Chris Rath has proposed a $74.17 million operating budget, $609,500 more than the current budget. Reductions in health care costs and staffing are offset by less state aid, higher special education costs and negotiated pay raises for district employees.

The proposal cuts 6.2 full-time positions at the high school and six classroom teachers from the district’s elementary schools. “The big context to all of this is Concord, like many other districts, is in the process of seeing enrollment decline,” Rath said.

Next year, the district is projected to have 120 fewer students, and as a result, $677,000 less in state adequacy aid. High school enrollment is projected to drop from 1,706 students to 1,597, and the number of K-5 students is expected to decrease by 46. Thirty-five more students will enroll in Concord’s middle schools.

Since 2003, district enrollment has dropped by 689 students in a trend expected to continue until at least 2018, when projections show about 300 fewer students than this year.

“We’ve had to reduce staff over the years, and this year is no different. It’s never easy,” said Clint Cogswell, chairman of the school board.

Declining birth rates, an aging population and fewer young people migrating to New Hampshire continue to drive the drop in public school enrollment.

In 2012, statewide enrollment was 187,963, about 6,000 fewer students than in 2010. “This is a trend,” said Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association. “It has caused districts to really rethink their budget, to downsize and stretch for efficiencies and to find new places for revenue.”

In Concord, the personnel changes will save the district $847,418, said Jack Dunn, district business administrator.

Even with the reductions, class sizes will stay in the range of the School Board’s Class Size policy. “Our main goal since I’ve been on the board, and the thing we’ve tried to start with, is maintaining decent class sizes,” Cogswell said. “That’s probably the number one priority of the board.”

The six classroom cuts at the elementary schools will come from across the district. At the high school, they will be made based on class size and course enrollment.

“The question we are always confronted with when we look at enrollment is how many teachers – in full-time equivalents – do we need next year to teach all sections of a particular course,” Rath said.

As an example, she said a teacher who teaches one yearlong class at the high school would be considered as two-tenths of a position. A teacher for a one-semester class is one-tenth of a position, she said. The cuts will be made by cutting from subject areas where fewer students have signed up for courses. At the high school, the district has proposed cutting 1.7 positions in math, 1.4 in social studies, 1.4 in English and one science position.

If the budget passes as presented, next year’s local and state school tax rate would be $14.08 per $1,000 of assessed property value, compared to $13.55 this year.

The district will pay $7.99 million in health insurance, a decrease of $498,486 – or nearly six percent – over the current year, because of an increase in employee contributions from teachers and educational and administrative assistants, a reduction in premiums and a switch to a Consumer-Driven Health Plan.

The budget has a $748,782 increase, or 1.93 percent, in salaries, due mostly to negotiated salary increases for administrators, teachers, administrative assistants, custodians, food service staff, bus drivers and transportation. The district’s eight collective bargaining units are currently under contract. Five of those will end next year.

There is a proposal for $240,000 to provide a full-time behavioral specialist in each elementary school, as well as specialized training during the summer and school year for staff working with students with severe behavioral challenges. We have seen in the last few years, very young children in kindergarten and first grade having challenges,” she said.

Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for tonight at 7 at the Mill Brook School on South Curtisville Road and Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the central office on Liberty Street. The school board will vote on a preliminary budget March 26 at 5:30 p.m. in the central office building.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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