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Manchester school budget heads to finish line

MANCHESTER — Members of the Board of School Committee will be asked tonight to approve a budget that includes hiring 10 new teachers and filling vacancies left by 14 retiring teachers — a reversal of fortune for a district that a year ago had to fire 76 teachers and leave dozens of positions unfilled in order to pay its bills.

The board will hold a public hearing tonight on a proposed $156.7 million school budget, after which it is expected to vote on school spending for next year. The spending proposal includes $1 million in additional school funding approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen a couple of weeks ago.

The school board also must balance some newly discovered budget savings with newly discovered expenses.

Superintendent Thomas Brennan, who today begins his final week on the job, late last week sent board members his revised budget recommendations.

Brennan proposes spending $484,000 to hire 10 new teachers, and another $678,000 to fill the 14 retirement vacancies. The superintendent also included $55,000 to pay for the committee’s decision to make the district athletic director position full-time.

The district will save $190,000 from the unexpected retirement of eight employees whose replacements will earn less. The district also saves $544,000 in its new contract with unionized paraprofessionals.

The unexpected savings, however, are offset by some steep last-minute costs. The district has been hit with a dramatic increase in health care costs, which means a half-million dollar cut in the amount of left-over money — so-called expendable trusts — that was going to be used in next year’s budget.

The district is also facing a bill for retirement costs that is nearly $67,000 higher than expected.

The 10 new teaching jobs are fewer than the 41 school board members requested in a $160 million “school approval” budget that members claimed was needed to meet state education requirements.

However, after a year in which cuts in the teaching staff led to a court battle over crowded high school classrooms, the ability to add teachers is a welcome change for some board members.

“I’m happy to be getting ten additional teachers,” said board member Kathy Staub. “I wish we were getting more additional teachers, but you get what you get and have to do the best that you can.”

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