Concord’s school budget proposed to increase by $2.7 million

  • Concord School District Building Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 2/24/2021 4:24:18 PM

The Concord School District has proposed a $90 million budget for 2021-2022, following a year of unexpected changes and new costs in technology and maintenance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed operating budget is $90,439,332, a 3% increase over the 2020-2021 budget of $87,702,296. If approved as is, the operating budget would increase taxes by about $70 a year on a home worth $250,000, according to Business Administrator Jack Dunn, who gave the Concord School Board an initial overview of the proposed budget earlier this month.

“We took a conservative approach on it, given the environment right now, given the climate, given the concerns in the city,” interim Superintendent Kathleen Murphy told the board. “We felt that would be the best route for us to go. But I think there’s still some room in this budget to look at it a little bit more.”

The school board has since met four times to go over specific areas of spending and public hearings on the budget are scheduled for March 22 and 24, with a vote scheduled for March 31.

A look at the proposed budget

The district is proposing $32,102,171.97 for the regular education fund, a 4.7% increase from the last budget. For special education, the proposed budget is $23,579,467, which is a 4.4% increase. For vocational education at the Concord Regional Technical Center, housed at Concord High, the proposed budget is $1,787,517, which is a 1.9% increase.

The vast majority of the district’s expenditures go toward salaries and benefits. Changes to mandatory contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System this year will cause a increase in benefit expenditures, Dunn said.

The budget proposes removing two teachers positions at Christa McAuliffe School and two at Rundlett Middle School, due to a decline in student enrollment. There’s also a proposal to fund two full time student assistance prevention counselors for Concord High and Rundlett. The counselors, who handle drug and alcohol prevention and social issues, had previously been funded by a grant.

The budget also proposes changing the Extended Learning Opportunity coordinator for a part-time to a full-time position. The coordinator helps students do learning experiences like internships or independent studies outside the classroom.

Maintenance and transportation workers are due to get a 1.75% salary increase. Unions for teachers and nurses, administrative assistants and food service workers haven’t yet finished negotiations.

Board members are currently undecided about whether or not to include a $88,000 school resource officer position in the budget. The decision will likely be based on testimony from the community in a meeting that will be held March 3 on whether to keep the position at Concord High School.

Investments in remote learning tools

The budget also contains $4,510,916.66 for student support services, an increase of 8.31%. These services include social work, guidance counseling and health, as well as things like library and technology services.

The district plans to upgrade wireless access points across the district, and will purchase 985 new electronic devices for students at Rundlett and 175 new laptops for teachers.

There’s also a 32% increase in software expenditures, which technology director Pam McLeod said is due to $121,000 in new academic software purchased new this year for remote learning.

“We’ve been trying out a lot of new software tools with COVID, different subscriptions for teachers, mostly,” McLeod told the board on Feb. 17.

For buildings and maintenance, the district is proposing a budget of $11,367,678.33, a decrease of 8%. This decrease is mainly due refinancing, savings in on electricity and oil, as well as decreases of debt.

Summer maintenance projects include roof patching, cameras and card access at Rundlett; lighting at Concord High, Broken Ground School and the central office; and flooring at the high school and Beaver Meadow School.

Dunn said the district is currently $30,500 over budget on electricity and natural gas utilities, due to having the HVAC systems running on full capacity for better ventilation during COVID-19.

“Under the CDC guidelines with the HVAC, we are running everything full bore, 24 hours a day,” Dunn said.

School board members and administrators will be discussing the Rundlett building project more on March 8.

Federal food funding may not cut it

Concord’s food service fund may take a hit this year if schools continue in remote or hybrid learning. Since food service is funded through per-meal reimbursements by the federal government, the number of meals the district produced this year hasn’t been enough to offset the cost of making them.

Many students who are learning from home this year are choosing to eat at home, too.

“The issue is, when you have the kids in school you do 2,800 to 3,000 meals per day, district-wide. Now we’re doing about 1,100 or 1,200,” Dunn said. “It’s just not enough to offset the salaries, the benefits and the supplies.”

After COVID-19 hit last year, food service had a $283,000 deficit according to Dunn, that was covered by the general fund. The budget proposes using $77,961 from the district food service fund to cover food worker health costs next year, but Dunn said it still may not be enough.

“I anticipate this year will be significant,” Dunn said. “If we have a year like this year, it’s going to need more than that.”

COVID-19 relief aid is coming

The district will also be receiving some federal aid money that comes from a COVID relief bill that was passed in December. New Hampshire is expected to receive $250 million for K-12 school districts, colleges and universities.

“We’re really committed to leveraging those funds from COVID the best we can,” Murphy said. “There are going to be very specific governance in that grant we must follow. It’s not just an open ‘here’s your check and go at it.’ There are going to be specifics we are going to have to follow.”

Under the first COVID relief bill passed by Congress, Concord received $953,636, which is used on things like personal protective equipment, cleaning equipment, extra classroom monitors and nursing staff, internet bandwidth and school lunch packaging machines.

The Concord School Board will be meeting again to discuss revenues, transfers and fees on March 1, school resource officers on March 3, and enrollment on March 9.

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