School Board approves $107.9 million budget

The $107.9 operating budget approved by the school board for next year was lower than originally proposed because of dropped teaching positions and a rejected middle school resource officer proposal. It is 1.58% larger than last year’s general fund and is estimated to produce a 2.9% overall education tax increase. 

The $107.9 operating budget approved by the school board for next year was lower than originally proposed because of dropped teaching positions and a rejected middle school resource officer proposal. It is 1.58% larger than last year’s general fund and is estimated to produce a 2.9% overall education tax increase.  Catherine McLaughlin—Monitor staff

 On average, according to district data, the education tax rate in Concord has increased 2.1% annually for the last decade. This year it is predicted to climb 2.9%.

 On average, according to district data, the education tax rate in Concord has increased 2.1% annually for the last decade. This year it is predicted to climb 2.9%. Catherine McLaughlin—Monitor staff

School board members Liz Boucher, left, Jess Campbell and Sarah Robinson as the board weighed comments from the head of the teacher’s union Wendesday night. 

School board members Liz Boucher, left, Jess Campbell and Sarah Robinson as the board weighed comments from the head of the teacher’s union Wendesday night.  Catherine McLaughlin—Monitor staff

New board member Liz Boucher, left, noted her support for the budget within the context of falling aid from the state. “With less and less state monies supporting our students, districts are left to pick up the mandated and forgotten costs of student population increasingly requires,” she said.

New board member Liz Boucher, left, noted her support for the budget within the context of falling aid from the state. “With less and less state monies supporting our students, districts are left to pick up the mandated and forgotten costs of student population increasingly requires,” she said. Catherine McLaughlin—Monitor staff

 Longtime board member Barbara Higgins, center, was the lone dissenting vote on the budget Wednesday night, citing her opposition to the number of teaching reductions.

 Longtime board member Barbara Higgins, center, was the lone dissenting vote on the budget Wednesday night, citing her opposition to the number of teaching reductions. Catherine McLaughlin—Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 03-28-2024 4:22 PM

Despite some pushback from the teacher’s union, the Concord School Board stayed the course on plans it made Monday to reduce the number of teaching positions in elementary schools to keep pace with a shrinking student population. 

The board voted 8-1 to approve a $107.9 million operating budget for the 2024-2025 school year Wednesday night. It is estimated to increase the city education tax rate by just under 3% to $15.62, which will be added to the tax rate for city hall, yet to complete its budget

“We can't deny the fact that we're losing resources,” board member Sarah Robinson said. “I don't want to pull teachers out of classrooms. No one does. But at the same time, people want to stay in their homes. So we have to find these ways that we can compromise.” 

A declining student population — elementary schools are down 374 students over the last decade, according to district data — means less money from the state in per-pupil funding. Relying on attrition through retirements, the board decided to reduce the number of teaching positions by four, a more decisive drop than the single cut originally budgeted.

While the board isn’t technically making cuts, some teachers could still lose their jobs, Michael Macri, the president of the teachers union in Concord, told the board. 

A handful of math coaches — one year positions scheduled to expire this year — and anyone returning from leave can be returned to classroom teaching next year, which would mean teachers with less seniority get bumped, per the collective bargaining agreement between the district and the union and standard practice, according to Superintendent Kathleen Murphy. 

“The initial statement was that no one was going to lose a position,” Macri said. “That’s not true, and the board needs to be aware of that.”

Murphy emphasized that there are other positions in the district people can apply for and that the district is working with them to ensure no one is cast out.

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Macri also expressed concern that, while the reduction may fit into the guardrails of the district’s class size policy, changing class sizes on teachers now would strain both teachers and students. 

Board Member Barbara Higgins agreed, saying that, since the board chose not to replace the math coaches with a math interventionist, the decrease was too much for teachers all at once, especially given the learning loss and behavioral challenges caused by the pandemic.

While Higgins was not the only board member noting their discomfort with the move, she ended up being the lone vote against the budget. Given several members’ expressed goal of keeping the tax rate increase under 3% and their addition of other teachers to the district, those in support said they were satisfied with the end product. They also agreed to review the class size policy to ensure it is still appropriate for a post-pandemic educational landscape. 

“I would like to reiterate the fact that this budget is going up by 1.58% at a time when inflation is double that,” board member Jim Richards said. “There are things none of us like at various points in this budget but I think we did as good a job as we possibly could.”

Those in support noted their contentedness with the raw increase and corresponding 2.9% tax rate bump especially given ballooning transportation, special education and healthcare costs dogging districts statewide. 

“If we look at surrounding towns, we are in a very fortunate position, even with a decrease in state funding, even with a decrease in enrollment from Deerfield,” Robinson said Monday when the board laid out the budget it approved Wednesday. “There are folks around us who flat line their budget and they still have a 6% plus increase.”