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March 04. 2012 12:58AM

Tale of two districts

Londonderry considered the drop in student enrollment over the past decade a blessing of sorts.

Bow, not so much.

Both towns — separated by about 25 miles of Interstate 93 — will ask voters this month to approve measures that deal with the shrinking student numbers.

Bow voters will decide whether to set up a study committee to explore bringing Dunbarton students into Bow High School. And Londonderry residents will weigh a school budget that contains a cut of seven teaching positions.

Enrollment at Bow's high school, which saw both its girls' and boys' soccer teams capture state titles last fall, dropped from 660 in 2007 to 526 last fall and is projected to drop to 370 in 2019.

“If we lost another 100 students (from today), some of those teams — we offer both football and soccer in the fall — you have to start asking: Do we have enough kids to support both of those?” said Bow Superintendent Dean Cascadden.

Districtwide, Bow has 19 fewer teachers now compared with the 2002-03 school year, he said.

For Londonderry, fewer students provided a break for the district, according to Superintendent Nate Greenberg.

“In one sense, I think the drop in enrollment has helped us,” he said. “If you go back to around 2000 and 2001, my elementary schools were extremely overcrowded.”

Some students were taught in halls. “In one of our schools, we had a converted boiler room in the area that we used for a small instructional group,” Greenberg said.

Londonderry lost about 17 percent of its student enrollment over a decade, creating enough vacant space to keep special education students within the school district rather than send them elsewhere, saving taxpayers more than $37 million since 2006. The district also averted millions of dollars in costs for building school additions, Greenberg said.

The teacher ranks have also been cut, from 422.5 teachers in fall 2006 to 387.1 last fall. An additional seven teachers — about 3.5 teachers each in the middle and high schools — are on the cutting block for this fall if voters approve the school budget next month, Greenberg said.

Cutting teachers isn't as easy as it might appear, he said.

“I could lose 25 kids in an elementary school. If they're all on one grade level, I can drop a class,” Greenberg said. “If they're spread out among five different grade levels — three kids there, four kids there and five kids there — it doesn't allow me to reduce a class because I haven't reached that point yet.”

For Bow, adding Dunbarton students at the high school would keep student counts at or above the projected 2012 level of 515 if neither town added new students in coming years. For 2018, Concord is projected to produce 392 students and Dunbarton 123, exactly matching the fall 2012 projection.

If the numbers aren't reversed, Bow High School could go from “a good varied curriculum and a good sports program to a pretty small high school that will have to do some serious contraction,” Cascadden said. “You're getting down to a size of a high school where you have to limit your options and opportunities.”


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