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Excess school money may target crowded classes in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 11. 2014 10:21PM

MANCHESTER — School board members are pressing the district to use part of its growing budget surplus this year to reduce the size of crowded middle school classes.

There are an estimated 79 middle school classes that exceed the state standard of 30 students per teacher, according to figures the administration recently released to the school board.

The class size information coincided with the district’s latest financial report, which showed that as of the end of February, its surplus had grown to about $830,000 for the current fiscal year

The surplus, according to the district’s business administrator, is primarily a result of changes in the paraprofessional contract, lower substitute teacher costs, and leaving some positions vacant.

In addition, tuition revenue has not taken the hit that was anticipated earlier in the school year, when there were projections of a $1.6 million budget hole due to a drop in students from Hooksett, Candia and Auburn. Tuition is expected to come in about $200,000 below the budget projection $7 million for the year.

At Monday’s Board of School Committee meeting, several members pressed Superintendent Debra Livingston on why more wasn’t being done to bolster the teacher ranks, given the persistence of large classes in the middle schools.

“I was under the impression we have these crowding problems because of a lack of resources,” Ward 3 board member Chris Stewart said. “Everybody at the board level has been doing all they can to get the class sizes down. I’d be happy to have the surplus used for that.”

Livingston said she had already hired two certified substitute teachers who would be placed in classes at McLaughlin Middle School, which has the largest number of crowded rooms of the four middle schools.

“What we’re trying do is come up with the best solution for students and teachers,” Livingston said. “Teachers felt that it was best not to break up classes. Given that, we made the decision to move froward with the subs and the team teaching.”

Livingston added that she was open to using the same approach to address crowding in other classes and at the other schools.

According to a source who viewed the class size numbers, there are 37 classes with more than 30 students at McLaughlin; 23 classes at Parkside; 17 classes at Southside; and two classes at Hillside.

The administration did not release the class size numbers to the public.

Ward 2 school board member Debra Gagnon Langton questioned whether hiring two substitute teachers was a proper response to the situation. “Are we doing this aggressively, because 79 classes over the standards is really high,” she said.

Assistant Superintendent Dave Ryan said hiring the substitutes was a start. “It’s still a problem, but at least we’ve made some gains,” he said. “We wanted to triage the most crowded classes, and that was those classes with 37 students” or more.

Mayor Ted Gatsas cautioned that the board should be careful in pushing to spend the surplus with four months remaining in the fiscal year. “That surplus can disappear with a couple medical claims,” he said.

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