December 19. 2012 12:34PM

Budget proposal would eliminate 31 Londonderry teacher's aides, 13 teachers

Union Leader Correspondent

LONDONDERRY - A controversial proposal to eliminate 31 part-time teaching assistant positions from the district's elementary schools drew much discussion during Tuesday night's school board budget workshop.

With declining enrollments and the budget stretched thin due to recent changes in state retirement funding, Superintendent Nathan Greenberg admitted the move wouldn't be ideal, but it would save the district around $250,000 next year. The reduction is part of an overall plan to keep taxes level in the face of current budgetary challenges, Greenberg said.

The plan also calls for the elimination of 13 certified teaching positions district-wide, including two seventh-grade teachers at Londonderry Middle School and five elementary school teachers. Middle School Principal Richard Zacchilli said those reductions are necessary due to the anticipated enrollment decline next year.

Elementary principals Carol Mack, Linda Boyd and Mary Coltin outlined plans to make up for the cut positions next year by restructuring the remaining staff and having children work in smaller groups with the help of educational specialists if necessary.

"Sometimes, the children come to rely on that extra help, but it's not a mistake to have them be independent some of the time," Mack noted. Greenberg further noted that the district's teachers already meet regularly to discuss student progress and which strategies may be deployed.

"Our job is to identify strengths and weaknesses and to determine which adults are the best ones to deliver instruction to which children," he said. Still, board member John Robinson voiced his concerns.

"Even if we added parent volunteers and reallocated our resources, I can't help but think there's going to be an impact here," Robinson said. "And in making this adjustment, what are we really losing?"

Board member Leitha Reilly agreed. "I love this 'can do' attitude," she told the principals. "But I'd like to look within the district and find another way we could save $250,000. This is not just my emotional plea to save jobs: I'm just not comfortable with changing policy as the result of a budget decision."

Business Administrator Peter Curro noted that during this year's budget process, district officials did, indeed, consider all their options. "We looked everywhere, not just in the elementary schools and not just at the aides," Curro stressed.

Robinson said he "didn't want to see $250,000 added back in the budget either."

"But we may have to," he added.

Board member Steve Young said he supported Greenberg's decision, noting it wasn't an easy one. "I support the administrators and know they can be successful in this," he said. Budget Committee member Dan Lekas noted that budget cuts are never an easy decision, and perhaps it's best to let the voters have the final say on the matter.

"If you find $250,000 to cut somewhere else, someone probably won't like that either," said Lekas. "So I say we let this go to the ballot and let the ones who are paying for all this decide."

A public hearing on the school budget will take place Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Council Chambers at Londonderry Town Hall.