January 14, 2011

Budget hearing short on comments

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Despite the 87 jobs hanging in the balance, there was little public discussion last night over Londonderry School Board’s proposed $63.2 million budget during a planned public hearing.
Only residents Pauline Caron and Nancy Hendricks questioned the board about the proposed budget, which
 comes in $317,000 below the current budget, cutting several teaching positions, special education administrators and assistants, a high school vocational education counselor, a middle school attendance monitor and three drug and alcohol counselors in the process. 

In hammering out the budget, the board has justified the cuts as appropriate, given the district’s shrinking enrollment. 
Currently there are 4,992 students attending district schools. By the 2011-2012 school year, the district projects enrollment at 4,829. Four years ago, enrollment was at 5,447 students. 
Caron made an example of neighboring Hudson School District, asking the board why a district with a comparable student body and infrastructure to Londonderry can operate on $20 million less, according to public records. School Superintendent Nathan Greenberg excused himself from the meeting to verify the enrollment figures quoted by Caron, which turned out to be off by about 900 — she thought Hudson had 100 fewer students. Greenberg told her it’s more like 1,000. 
“And so 1,000 students costs $21 million?” Caron asked. 
“If that’s the difference in enrollment, then yes,” answered Greenberg. 
From there, other board members chimed in about the number of additional classrooms and associated costs for 1,000 students, including the ultimate x-factor — not knowing how many special education students were receiving services in Hudson. 
Of Londonderry’s 4,014 students, 800 are considered special education students, and 20 students receive out-of-district placement. 
The board told Caron that without more specific information about Hudson’s budget they could not directly address her question. Caron told the board she would find answers and get back to them. 
Hendricks questioned the board on how the proposed support staff cutbacks would specifically affect the district’s reading program and literacy rates. 
“You’re confident this won’t have a negative impact on literacy in this district? This reading program we have is enormously aggressive, and I’m concerned about students falling through the cracks and not being captured soon enough so they can stay with the program, no pun intended, so their literacy won’t be advancing as we want it to,” said Hendricks. “As you know, reading is the foundation of education.” 
Assistant School Superintendent Andy Corey fielded Hendricks’ concerns, reassuring her that the board was looking at establishing grade-level competencies, and would move forward with student success as a driving force. 
The hour-long meeting reviewed the 39-page proposed budget and outlined the nine warrant articles, all unanimously approved, that will be on the March 8 ballot, which would include the proposed $63,222,575 budget question. 

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