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Concord School District to cut $1 million from proposed budget due to COVID-19 

  • Concord School District Building Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/31/2020 4:16:45 PM

The $88.6 million budget Concord School District officials proposed to the school board earlier this month included more than 20 new positions, most of which were focused on the social-emotional health of students.

Now, due to COVID-19, officials say they made the decision to cut many of those positions, reducing the proposed 2021 budget by around $1 million.

“There’s an economic downturn that’s going to come as a result of all of this,” Interim Superintendent Frank Bass said of the impact of COVID-19. “We know people are going to get hurt (financially), and we’re very conscious of that.”

The total figure for the new budget is $87.7 million, a 1.86% increase over last year. The previous budget, made public by the district in early March, represented a 2.85% increase.

Bass said given the economic turmoil caused by the virus, the focus for the budget became maintaining programming the district already provides, instead of adding new positions.

“It’s a balancing act for us to maintain the quality our school programs – we don’t want people to lose their jobs if we can help it – and at the same time, to also be cognizant of the fact that we want to keep the budget relative to the tax rate, as low as we can,” he said.

The new positions that were eliminated include an additional guidance counselor at the high school, an additional assistant principal at Rundlett Middle School and three educational assistants for the district’s kindergarten program.

District officials kept in a new school compliance officer – with an estimated cost of $137,462 including benefits – to help implement the recommendations of an independent investigator that reviewed how the district was responding to reports of sexual misconduct last year.

Interviews of finalists have taken place over the course of the last several weeks, Bass said. He said during an April 6 school board meeting he plans to nominate Capt. Karen Fischer-Anderson, a retired judge advocate general for the U.S. Navy who now lives in Bradford.

Fischer-Anderson previously headed the Navy’s Victim Legal Counsel (VLC), a program in which military attorneys represent victims of sexual assault in the U.S. military.

Bass said the district’s current transition to remote learning won’t stop the compliance officer from starting work in the district right away.

“The goal was to have her start immediately, after she’s approved by board,” Bass said. “We are thrilled to get someone of her caliber.”

The school safety compliance position will oversee the district’s response to reports of discrimination, harassment, bullying, retaliation and sexual violence. She is expected to identify and address any patterns and systematic problems revealed by those complaints, and provide training to staff and students.

Additionally, district officials spared two proposed social worker positions in the budget, an additional district nurse position, and three new special education teachers.

Six special education teachers were originally proposed, but three – one of whom would have been working at Rundlett and two of whom would have been at district K-2 or elementary schools – were cut.

“We really took a hard look at what positions we felt were absolutely crucial, and tried to focus on those,” Bass said. “We had to make a lot of really tough decisions.”

Public hearings for the budget, which were originally set to happen earlier this month, have been rescheduled for Thursday, April 2 at 7 p.m. and Monday, April 5 at 5:30 p.m. Members of the public will be able to join the meeting virtually through Microsoft Teams or watch a live broadcast on ConcordTV. Information on joining the meeting virtually can be found on the district’s website. The board will also review citizen comments via email at concordinfo@sau8.org

Other adjustments

Among the positions proposed in the budget made public by the district in early March was a full-time family home visitor that would focus on supporting kids who need extra attention at home before they reach school-age. The position was budgeted at $108,360, including benefits, but was scaled back to part-time.

District teachers have said they have seen a concerning rise in behaviors, such as emotional and physical outbursts in the classroom, from students who have experienced trauma at a young age at home. The new part-time, 10-hour a week position, carries a $19,377 budget impact.

Other positions cut were a custodian position, which would have been based at Concord High, but filled in at all district schools, when needed. That position was projected to cost $66,610.

Barbara O’Brien-Lane, who teaches second grade at Beaver Meadow School, voluntarily withdrew a sabbatical request that was approved by the school board and would have focused in part on training teachers to work with students who have had adverse childhood experiences. The cost to cover O’Brien’s classroom while she was working on her project would have been $52,454.

The new budget also proposes cutting eight education assistant positions that haven’t been filled in recent years, creating a savings of $237,766.

Concord School District Business Administrator Jack Dunn said given that personnel is the most expensive part of the budget, it made sense to make cuts there.

“I think the big thing is, we recognize the economic times, and we just feel we ought to hit pause. As much as all of these positions were valid, and we went through a pretty arduous process during this budget, I think current events have shaken everybody quite a bit,” he said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to support our staff, support the community, and take a pause for a moment,” he added.

Both Bass and Dunn noted that the U.S. Senate’s $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package includes more than $30 billion for education, with at least $13.5 billion slotted to go K-12 schools nationally. How much Concord may see of that money remains to be seen.

“We hope to see some support in the way of those funds, but of course, we can’t count on it,” Bass said.




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