An elementary school would be closed and 15 positions eliminated under a proposal that bridges a projected $7.4 million shortfall in the Manchester school district budget, officials said Thursday.
Superintendent John Goldhardt’s proposed tax cap budget for the 2022 fiscal year calls for the closure of Hallsville Elementary School and an overall reduction in force of the equivalent of 15.8 full-time district staff.
Goldhardt said that while teachers and other tenured Hallsville staff would be shifted around the district, savings would be gained by eliminating the need for a principal, a part-time assistant principal, a health department-provided school nurse and some support staff and crossing guards.
“It does provide savings, but it wasn’t done to balance the budget,” Goldhardt said. “Looking down the road, we have declining enrollment, we continue to have declining enrollment in the city, and we had to make some decisions sooner or later.”
Goldhardt said the district is losing more than $5 million in funding related to student enrollment and families qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch at the same time that it faces a $2.6 million increase in costs associated with the state retirement system.
“It’s going to cause some sadness and consternation ... I understand,” Goldhardt said. “It’s hard. You’ve got a school that’s over 100 years old, you’ve got some tradition, and families there that have loved their school.”
But, he said, “Our next budget must balance the financial realities of this pandemic with meeting the needs of our students. In some cases, this will mean making difficult, but necessary decisions.”
Other recommendations to address the shortfall include asking city aldermen to forgive a loan for textbooks that has a remaining balance of $2.8 million, closing underused wings at some city high schools to save on utilities, and one-time use of funds totaling $2 million.
The Committee on Finance and Facilities will meet Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. to begin its review of the proposed budget. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for the following Wednesday, Feb. 17.
The budget must eventually be approved by the full Board of School Committee and the Board of Aldermen.
Goldhardt said he met with Hallsville staff in person Thursday morning to tell them of the recommendation.
“They were sad, but they were very professional and understanding, because I think they’ve known for a while this has been under consideration,” Goldhardt said. “They were very gracious about it, but of course sad because they love the school. I just reiterated it has nothing to do with their performance and the students.”
Hallsville, built on Jewett Street in 1891, is the oldest operating school in the city. In need of millions of dollars in repairs, it is one of five schools recommended for closure in a facilities study prepared by MGT Consulting Group.
The study suggests closing Hallsville, Gossler Park, Smyth and Wilson elementary schools and Central High. Other recommendations include merging Manchester School of Technology with Manchester Memorial High School to address declining enrollment and more than $150 million in deferred maintenance and other costs.
“Even before the pandemic, our enrollment was on the decline,” Goldhardt said. “And at the same time, the condition of some of our buildings continued to deteriorate. Despite the best efforts of our staff, that does not allow us to deliver the best learning environment for our students.”
Goldhardt said if Hallsville is closed, the school district would continue with its plans to shift the school’s fifth-graders to Southside Middle School, with the remaining students going to other schools in the city.
Goldhart said the changes can be made without increasing class sizes.
Mayor Joyce Craig called Hallsville “an important part of our city’s history.”
“Generations of Manchester students have walked the halls since it first opened in 1891, including my grandmother Beatrice Wheeler Hopkins and my husband Mike, along with wonderful educators like Mrs. Dickinson and Board of School Committee member (Bill) Shea,” Craig said. “The administration considered many factors when making this difficult decision: fifth graders will be going to Southside in the fall, there’s been a decrease in student enrollment, there are other schools in the neighborhood that have capacity, and the building is old and in poor condition.
“It’s important to note that class sizes will not be impacted, and staff will be retained and transferred to other schools.The ultimate goal is to provide a better learning environment, and more opportunities for our students and educators,” she said.
Goldhardt’s FY ’22 budget comes in at $173.1 million, complying with a 1.87% cap on increased taxes. Of that, salaries total $84.1 million.