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Part II: Nashua and Manchester in bottom 10 for school spending per pupil

Union Leader Correspondent
New Hampshire Union Leader

March 19. 2018 9:03AM

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The Manchester School District plans to expand the grade banding concept piloted the last two years at Parker Varney School, with students working independently in small groups. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

Part II of a two-part series

Manchester and Nashua are the two biggest cities in the state. Together, the 24,600 students they educate comprise almost 14 percent of all New Hampshire students.

More than 40 percent of Nashua students come from needy families; the Manchester percentage — 57 percent — is the sixth-highest in the state.

And the cities’ school systems rank in the bottom 10 when it comes to overall spending on education. Nashua is 10th from the bottom, spending an average of $12,693 per student this past school year.

Manchester per-pupil spending is dead last among the state’s 150-plus school districts — $11,697 per student — nearly $1,000 less per student than Nashua.

“We have a tax cap, and I have to present a budget within the cap. The money we have in the city is limited; we have to do the best we can,” said Mayor Joyce Craig. She spoke the same week that the school board recommended that school spending increase less than 2 percent next year, which stays within the city’s tax cap.

In Nashua, Superintendent Jahmal Mosley said he will continue to advocate for Nashua’s public schools, and that includes asking for more funding. He recently recommended a 3.4 increase in school spending in the Gate City next year; the mayor had asked him to keep his increase at 2.5 percent or lower.

The state median for per-pupil spending is $16,672.

“I’m not focused on that dollar figure. I’m focused on where we are today,” Craig said about the $11,697 per-student spending.

She said Manchester schools have taken steps to improve education that won’t bust a budget. The district plans to expand the grade banding concept, piloted these last two years at Parker Varney School, to other West Side elementary schools.

Organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, Fun in the Sun, and Girls Inc,. Have committed to a summer reading program. And Craig said she wants to re-examine a move taken several years ago to reduce the school year by five days.

She also questioned whether all students avail themselves of the opportunity and rigor that Manchester schools offer.

In Nashua, the city has implemented full-day kindergarten, and teacher-volunteers have implemented a monthly SAT preparation class for high school kids.

Interactive look at 2016-2017 SAT and Smart-Balanced Scores

INSTRUCTIONS - The report opens on page 1, S-B Math, to navigate to the other test results, hover over the chart and a control bar appears at the bottom. Select districts using the checkboxes to compare within a region or communities of interest. The vertical axis is a district's % of students receiving free and reduced meals. The horizontal axis is what a district spent per pupil. The size of the bubble is average score relative to other districts. Hover over a bubble for district information. The table below the chart provides additional details. Best viewed in Chrome.

Charter schools and public academies are excluded from these reports as Cost-Per-Pupil (CPP) data is not available for them. All results are based on 2016-2017 SAT Scaled Scores or 2016-2017 Smarter-Balanced Scaled Scores. No other tests were included. % of Free and Reduced (%FandR) meals in a district is based on Oct. 1st enrollment for grades K-12 and includes directly certified students. All students receiving free meals, reduced meals as well as free milk are included.

DATA: SAT Scores | Smarter-Balanced Scores | Click here for a fuller view of the report above in a window of its own.

Spending, test scores

The New Hampshire Department of Education released data on district spending, test scores and poverty rates to the New Hampshire Union Leader. The data do not include charter schools and private academies such as Pinkerton Academy in Derry.

Manchester elementary school students performed third from the bottom, as measured by the 2016-17 average scaled Smarter Balanced test, which the state has since abandoned. Nashua was 20th from the bottom.

Manchester SAT scores for the same school year ranked ninth-worst for math, its average score of 482 a full 38 points behind Nashua. Manchester’s reading score was 11th-worst in the state and only 6 points behind Nashua.

James O’Connell, a Manchester father of schoolchildren who heads up Citizens for Manchester Schools, said school officials often look at academic performance such as test scores in isolation. Spending, student-teacher ratios (also high) and teacher pay (about average) all have an impact on performance, he said.

“An honest discussion of academic outcomes would include all of it,” he said. Like Craig, he complained that state actions on teacher pension funding and stabilization grants are shifting costs to local districts.

O’Connell praised actions by city officials, who last year devoted $2 million toward elementary schools. Eight extra teachers were hired, as were nurses, resource officers and a foreign language program.

But he said “there are no straight lines,” and a 10 percent increase in spending could as likely result in a 5 percent jump in test scores as a 20 percent jump.

The whole child

Nashua’s Mosley is not a fan of using a single test scores to judge school quality or a student.

“The whole child is the person we want sitting in front of the SATs, not just the student focused on academics,” said Mosley.

His counterpart, Manchester Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas, did not make himself available for an interview for this article. Nor did he respond to emailed questions. A spokesman said he was too busy.

Craig cautioned against using data in the aggregate. Broken down, the data reveal some strengths in the city schools, she said.

“I really believe in these schools. I have seen the successes of kids coming out of them. They’re tremendous,” Craig said.

In Manchester, 57 percent of students qualify for either free or reduced-priced school lunches, a measure that most education officials use to measure poverty in schools. Nashua exceeded 40 percent.

“Public schools are the microcosm of America. We don’t pick and choose who comes through our doors,” said Mosley, adding he is proud to work in a district with a growing number of English Language Learners and special needs students.

She said there is probably a strong relationship between poverty and low test scores. Students from poorer families are more likely to have attendance issues, social and emotional needs, an less support at home, she said.

“This is where the community comes in,” she said, noting the work of the youth organizations.

Education Manchester Nashua Special Report

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