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March 21. 2014 7:06PM

Nashua school budget squeezed

NASHUA — School officials need to close the gap between the administration's $101 million revised budget proposal and the $99 million the city has offered, and Superintendent Mark Conrad has compiled a list of cuts that includes teachers, guidance counselors, technology and classroom supplies.

The administration's original $102 million proposal called for a 5.2 percent increase over last year's $97 million budget. Earlier this month, Conrad shaved $1 million off the top through accounting adjustments and unanticipated savings on a busing contract.

According to the new list of cost-saving measures, the district will save another $1 million by cutting six high school teachers, two teachers at the middle schools, two guidance and career counselors, two school secretaries and a curriculum coordinator. The list also scraps plans to hire new elementary teachers to ease classroom crowding and add several part-time teachers to help students with math and English language skills.

In addition to staff, the list includes a $100,000 cut from the $1.6 million allocated to the schools for classroom supplies, $50,000 from the technology budget, $30,000 from the middle school classroom libraries and $46,000 for training in math education for elementary school teachers.

"It's definitely harsh," said BOE Chairman George Farrington. He said it's unlikely the board will just agree to the new slate of cuts. "I think we'll have a lot of discussion about this," he said.

Board member Robert Hallowell said that while Conrad drew up the list of cuts, they are not recommendations and do not reflect how the superintendent wants the school district to move forward.

"The list was compiled in response to a request from board members," said Hallowell. The board wanted a "road map" of what millions of dollars in cuts would mean to the school district, he said.

Hallowell said there are other options and the board will be looking at possibilities such as using reserve accounts to buffer the effects of the budget.

Still, Farrington pointed out that more than 80 percent of the budget goes toward salaries, and the board may be forced to looks at staff cuts to find nearly $2 million in spending reductions.

"I don't think it's been determined with any specificity which teaching positions might be cut," said Farrington. Students are now in the process of choosing and scheduling classes for next year, and reductions in staff would probably depend on how many signed up for different courses.

Farrington also said that while it's possible that some cuts in teaching staff may be made through attrition rather than layoffs, there's no guarantees.

Although BOE members acknowledge that the Board of Aldermen will not approve the school budget without significant cuts, some members are already drawing a line when it comes to cutting teachers.

"While I am sympathetic to the tax burden on our property owners, I will not vote to cut any direct classroom instruction," said BOE member Sandra Ziehm. "Everything else is up for consideration."

btaormina@newstote.com


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