NASHUA — The board of education is continuing to review the next year’s school budget looking for possible places to make cuts, and on Wednesday night, they heard a presentation on the district’s program for English Language Learners.
In his 2015 budget proposal, Superintendent Mark Conrad has recommended hiring a part-time teacher to work with ELL students who have passed a language proficiency test but may still need additional support. Although the cost of the additional teacher is only about $23,000 a year, the revised $104 million school budget is still roughly $2 million over what Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has told the board the city can afford and all parts of the budget are being scoured for potential cuts.
ELL Director Robert Cioppa presented an overview of Nashua’s ELL program which, this year, includes 1,031 students who speak more than 50 different languages. The district receives $136,000 in funding for the state Department of Education to support its ELL program.
Because students who have completed the ELL program have been testing as only partially proficient or substantially below proficient in reading on the NECAP assessment tests, however, the state is requiring the district to create a plan to help those students.
The district’s response to that requirement was to propose a new part-time teacher who could work with students who have passed the district’s test for language proficiency but still need additional academic support.
Board member Robert Hallowell questioned whether the low scores on NECAP tests were due to a lack of language skills or possibly other issues. Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Seusing said that the new ELL teacher would function as a case worker who would determine what each individual student’s needs were.
Some members of the board suggested the district was investing more in supporting ELL students than other students with similar needs. Board member Sandra Zeihm pointed out that many students in the school district also score poorly on reading assessment tests.
Other members, however, felt that ELL students have a special set of complex needs, and schools are responsible for preparing them for college and careers in this country.
The board is scheduled to meet again Saturday at 9 a.m. to begin discussing how to reduce the budget and meet the mayor’s request of capping this year’s increase to $2.1 million.