With pandemic learning gaps, $99.9 million budget continues support for students in Concord

Monitor staff
Published: 3/28/2023 5:42:38 PM
Modified: 3/28/2023 5:42:25 PM

In a typical fourth-grade math class in Concord, students should be able to calculate the area of a shape with the help of the acronym P-E-M-D-A-S, which stands for parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

That task becomes harder, if not impossible if they don’t have the foundation of multiplying and dividing nailed down from third-grade math class.

That was the case for many students this year, as the pandemic led to learning gaps, especially in English and math.

Concord Superintendent Kathleen Murphy estimates that some students were two years behind on their math curriculum. But with the help of “math coaches,” positions that were introduced in the pandemic to support teachers with their lessons and measure progress in math – that gap has whittled down to between a year and six months for most students. 

Now, with pandemic funding ending as the Concord School District crafts its budget for the upcoming year, the challenge for Murphy was piecing together a spending proposal that continued these additional support positions, while transitioning these salaries to an operating budget that is supported by local taxpayers. 

After twelve work sessions, two of which were public hearings, the Concord School Board will vote Wednesday on a posted budget that has been narrowed down to $99.9 million, which is a 1.4% increase from last year. The tax impact for Concord residents will be a 4% increase with the combined state taxes, which translates to about $200 more per year for homes valued at $350,000. 

Throughout the pandemic, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund provided school districts with federal dollars to support education. The Concord School District received $18 million over the last three years, according to Murphy. 

“You had all this money, which was supposed to keep people working and to pay for all the things that you needed during the pandemic, as well as recognizing the learning loss that occurred when children weren't in school in front of their teachers,” she said.

With that money, they’ve been able to hire positions like six math coaches, an occupational therapist and a director of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. Now the funding for these positions are expiring, leaving it up to the school board to vote to continue to fund these positions based on Murphy’s recommendation. 

“We knew that that money was going to go away and we also recognize that the district couldn't expect to just roll all of those positions into the budget. So we tried to try to find as many compromises as we could and use funds in any way that we could,” she said.

The operating budget for the 2023-24 school year currently includes funding for three full-time math coaches, the occupational therapist and the diversity director, who has already been hired.

Each of these positions aligns with the six budget priorities – equity and diversity; social and emotional learning; curriculum, instruction and assessment; communication; facilities; and safety, Murphy said. 

In addition to the continuation of these pandemic positions, the budget also includes funding for a public information position in the school district, a teacher to start a new preschool at Abbot-Downing and a facilities manager, all budgeted at over $100,000 per year. 

The three math coaches will work across the district’s seven schools, meet with teachers, sit in on classes and model lessons. 

The idea of the program is to support students within their math classes, while also providing professional development for teachers, in hopes of strengthening their lessons to continue to work on the learning gaps – especially when the coaching comes to an end after next year. 

“The notion behind the coaching concept is if you increase the skills of your teachers, then that is going to elevate the performance of students,” said Murphy. 

The hiring of the district’s new diversity director Quinci Worthey also stemmed the district’s strategic plan – where equity is the first priority. As one of the most diverse school districts in the state, where 20 percent of the students identify as non-white, the position will not only focus on racial diversity, but also support students with learning differences, the 110 students who are experiencing homelessness and also students who identify with the LGBTQ community. 

“We feel that's really important around helping to address the diversity that exists and it's not just racial diversity,” said Murphy.

In piecing together the budget, personnel costs, including salary and benefits, compose almost 80 percent of all spending, according to Jack Dunn, the district’s business administrator. 

The school board will meet on the budget Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., in the district’s offices at 38 Liberty Street. Five board members out of the nine need to vote in favor of the budget in order for it to pass. 

This meeting comes after the final work session Monday, where board members debated ways to increase the number of math coaches to five, as opposed to the current three proposed. This increase would better continue the current work coaches are doing, said board member Cara Meeker. 

The increase of these positions, which are budgeted at more than $70,000 a year, left the board with two options – either to increase the budget total and the tax impact on residents or to cut other proposed positions. After two hours, the board tabled the conversation. 

“You’re trying to balance the needs of students, which have changed a lot… and the needs of the taxpayer, the people who live in the community and have to pay the bills so to speak, ” Murphy said. “Trying to balance those two things can be challenging.”


Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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