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Dropping enrollments add financial pressures at Manchester schools

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 20. 2013 8:37PM

MANCHESTER — Administrators have notified school board members that lower-than-expected enrollment numbers from surrounding communities has resulted in a $1.6 million hole in district revenues.

The deficit could have significant implications on the city's coffers, but what effect — if any — the shortfall will have has yet to be determined.

"We are in the process now of going back over the numbers, trying to verify the accuracy of the enrollment numbers," said Karen DeFrancis, business administrator for the Manchester schools. "We have a week or so until the paperwork needs to be submitted to the state, so these could change."

DeFrancis said that while crafting the Fiscal Year 2014 budget for the district, officials were using a figure of 808 students enrolled from Hooksett, Candia and Auburn combined.

"The numbers we are seeing right now show an actual enrollment number of 624 students," said DeFrancis.

Under a settlement reached earlier this year, Manchester agreed that the current school year would be Hooksett's last in the 20-year contract the two parties entered into in 2003. Hooksett students are allowed to continue to attend city high schools through 2018, when incoming freshmen this year are scheduled to graduate.

At the same time, Hooksett has agreed to pay a higher tuition rate for these years, starting at $10,200 in 2014 and rising to $10,824 for 2017. The town has been paying $8,500 per student. The town would also continue to pay capital costs totaling $792,000 through 2018, and it would pay the city an additional $200,000 through 2015.

Less students translates into fewer tuition dollars for the district.

Mayor Ted Gatsas isn't convinced yet that the lower enrollment figures are accurate.

"If they are correct, then a high percentage of students would have gone to school here for three years, then left their senior year to go somewhere else," said Gatsas. "I just don't think that's the case. That's why we're going back over the figures on a student-by-student basis, to see how they were counted."

DeFrancis said that if the numbers prove to be correct and revenue is off by $1.6 million, there may be enough funds in the city surplus funds to cover the difference. Attempts to reach city finance director Bill Sanders to check on the surplus fund were unsuccessful.

Goffstown school officials are considering entering into a tuition agreement with Hooksett to replace lost revenue when Dunbarton students leave the district next June.

Last March, about 500 Dunbarton residents voted to end their 40-year agreement with Goffstown and enter into an agreement with Bow beginning in September 2014. The loss of the Dunbarton students could mean a loss of about $2 million in annual revenue for Goffstown.

In September, Goffstown school officials asked Acting School Superintendent Brian Balke to contact Dunbarton parents, to determine how many families want to send their children to Goffstown's middle and high schools. Hooksett is hoping to find a school that could accommodate 670 to 700 of its students.

The Hooksett School Board recently authorized Superintendent Charles Littlefield to enter into contract negotiations with Pinkerton Academy in Derry to send most of the district's students there beginning next September.

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