Franklin School District faces deficit, potential teacher cuts

  • Franklin High School principal Richard Towne explains to the Franklin School Board Monday the number of challenges the school will have if it loses eight teachers for the 2016-2017 year. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The mood was grim in Franklin Middle School’s library Monday as Franklin High School Principal Richard Towne told school board members what would happen if he lost eight teachers for the 2016-17 school year. All Spanish courses – plus others – would be cut, class sizes would increase and state accreditation could be in jeopardy.

After several consecutive years of staff and budget cuts, Towne said that with the additional slash, “we are at a breaking point.”

A total of 24 staff members were given pink slips late last week as Franklin School District faces a potential $1.3 million budget deficit. Though projected revenue for the next budget year is $14.45 million, the school board approved a $15.76 million budget May 9 to be sent to the Franklin city council.

The council will take up the budget at its June 6 meeting.

SAU 18 Superintendent Daniel LeGallo explained Monday night to about 30 attendees that the 24 staff cuts would only occur if the city council refused to fund the $1.3 million gap.

“That’s what we’ll have to do to stay under that budget,” LeGallo said. “Which no one wants, by the way.”

According to the draft meeting minutes from May 9, the school district has lost almost $500,000 in revenue from tuitioned students, the state’s Adequate Education Grant and food services.

In addition, the minutes note that 2016-17 requires almost an extra $1 million in insurance, collective bargaining agreements and new hires, retirement funds, computers, materials, and supplies.

On Monday night, the school board considered removing $61,250 in “nickels and dimes” from its proposed budget, though unanimously decided against it.

“This is a bare bones budget to begin with,” said school board member Deborah Brown.

Though the outcome isn’t settled, the school board was legally bound to notify by Sunday any staff member who may not be rehired next year.

If those staff members are laid off, Franklin School Board member Tim Dow asked at Monday’s meeting if the principals of the three Franklin schools could describe what effect it would have.

Towne, who oversees Franklin High School, painted by far the most devastating picture. He said he was in the midst of developing two master schedules for the 2016-17 year: one with his current staff, and one with eight fewer teachers.

In the latter event, Towne said, “It’s not a good situation.”

Many of the alternatives to core English or math classes – such as journalism or statistics – would be eliminated, computer and Spanish classes would no longer be offered, and the social studies department would only have two staff members remaining.

“In summary, we’re looking at a course schedule that, especially in core areas, will just have the classes required for graduation,” Towne said.

Some class sizes would rise to more than 30 students (versus the recommended 15 to 22), efforts to be accredited by the state could be stilted, and students could struggle to gain qualifications for the New Hampshire Scholars Program without a geography class.

Franklin Middle School and Paul Smith Elementary School are facing potential challenges, too. Paul Smith would somehow have to run a technology program without a technology teacher to remain an approved school, and both schools would lose behavioral and special education positions, which officials said are needed more than ever.

Paul Smith Principal Michael Hoyt said, “I spend about two-thirds of my day dealing with behaviors.”

In the public participation portion of Monday’s meeting, Paul Smith second-grade teacher Jennifer Weaver spoke about Franklin’s responsibility to its students.

“The only ones who are losing out are the kids who have no say in this,” Weaver said. “Why do they not deserve an education from their community?”

In their May 9 meeting, school board members discussed how Franklin’s property taxes are split about 65 percent for the city and 35 percent for the schools, whereas in numerous other New Hampshire communities, a larger portion goes to the schools.

Towne said this issue isn’t just about the 2016-17 school year, but about Franklin’s attitude toward education.

“Even if the district approves the $15.7 million budget, what are we going to do the following year?” asked Towne. “The situation, I think, it needs a long-term plan.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)