Pelham - Windham News | December 16, 2011 - 11 Increase in Proposed School Budget Blamed on Student Population
by Barbara O’Brien As of the December 6 Windham School Board meeting, the potential increase in the proposed 2012-2013 school district operating budget stood at 7.26 percent, bringing the budget to 42,986,282, a $2.9 million increase over 2011- 2012’s 40,074,905 budget. Taking all proposed school district expenses for next year into consideration, that is somewhat less, bringing the translating into 4.9 percent above the total that was approved for the current 2011-2012 school year. According to SAU 28 Business Administrator Adam Steele, the reason that the overall increase is less than the increase for the operating budget is that there is no money being set aside for the kindergarten addition next year. The one year expense was paid for during the 2011-2012 school year.
What is the likely impact of next year’s proposed budgetary increase on Windham taxpayers? According to Steele, property assessed for tax purposes at $350,000 (the average value of a Windham home) could see an increase in taxes of about $396. This only includes the impact of the school district budget, not any changes in town, county or state expenses. Steele told school board members that the reason for the increased spending proposal in these austere economic times is the “explosive growth” in the student population. “We need to keep up with the tide of students coming in to Windham,” Steele said. Based on known statistics, there will be 154 more students in Windham next year. This growth translates into a 6 percent increase at every grade level, Steele explained, adding that a 16 percent enrollment increase has already occurred during the past two years alone. The space crunch existing in Windham schools “is akin to a school bus that’s too small for the number of students,” Steele stated. There’s no place to put anyone else.
The student/teacher ratio in Windham is not good compared to other communities statewide. Currently, it has the 12th worst student/teacher ratio in New Hampshire, while next year, if class sizes continue to expand, Windham could be third from the bottom of the list overall and the second worst at the primary grade level. “We have made every attempt to be frugal in this economy,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Henry LaBranche said. “It would be a challenge to bring it any lower.”
Areas proposed for an increase next year include the addition of eight teachers, to be assigned to the grades where there would be the greatest needs, most likely kindergarten, first and second grade. “That’s where we’d get the most bang for the buck,” Steel said. The line item for hiring substitute teachers would also likely increase, based on the actual need indicated in prior years. Special Education services are also proposed to increase by about $600,000 (20 percent above appropriations for 2011- 2012). The proposed budget for next year also includes $75,000 to be used for engineering and architectural fees to allow facilities planning to move forward. New Hampshire State Retirement will also be going up, as mandated last spring. Healthcare benefits are also expected to continue rising. The operating budget for SAU 28, already approved by members of the Pelham and Windham School Boards last month, shows a 4 percent increase over the current year’s appropriations. Consumable supplies for next year represent 5 percent of the overall increase, again due to the anticipated hike in student enrollment.
In response to a comment from School Board Chairman Ed Gallagher, that he would like to see the proposed operating budget brought down to no more than a 5 percent increase for 2012-2013, Dr. LaBranche replied that there would have to be additional cuts of $800,000 to $1 million to
GFWC Windham Woman’s Club Brings Christmas Cheer to Veterans
reduce the increase to five percent, as opposed to the current 7.26 percent. School Board member Michelle Farrell said she feels that keeping the approximate increase to next year at only 7 percent “is impressive” considering the student population has increased so much in the past two years. School Board member Stephanie Wimmer commented that a 7 percent increase in the proposed budget is “far less than the increase in students.” “We have no control over these issues,” she said. In order to get to the State average for classroom enrollment, it would take 20 new teachers, not just eight of them, Wimmer said.
In response to a question regarding why it
would be a problem to increase class sizes up to 25 to 30 students, Golden Brook School Principal Debra Armfield replied that significant research has shown that class size does make a substantial difference in student performance, particularly in the younger grades. Students at Windham schools are grouped heterogeneously, she said. “Their abilities are all over the map.” A large class size limits the amount of actual interface between individual students and their teachers, she explained. LaBranche said the average class size in
Windham these days ranges from 19 to 21 students. “I’d like to get down to 15” students per classroom, he said. The State average class size is 12.7 students per teacher, for communities with more than 1,000 students, he added. Windham High School Principal Tom Murphy
said it’s not effective to have a teacher just stand in front of a class of 30 students, lecturing for 80- minute blocks of time. Not only is this “torture for the students,” but teachers also can’t meet individual student needs using this technique. Center School Principal Kori Becht said
teaching becomes increasingly challenging when “packing more bodies into a classroom,” “At the end of the day,” she continued, “it’s the students in
the classroom that must be kept in mind.” Windham Middle School Principal Dan Moulas said it really comes down to “student engagement and differentiation of instruction.” The enrollment and associated costs are going up, Moulas stated, but the bottom line is that this “is an investment in our kids.” “It’s more difficult to learn in a more crowded environment,” he added. School Board Vice-Chairman Bruce Anderson
acknowledged that a 7 percent increase in the budget is a hard number for residents to accept. However, Anderson continued, “People don’t understand that we don’t have control over everything.” Much of the school budget covers mandated, statutory and contractual obligations, he explained. “There is very little that is discretionary.”
Gallagher said he didn’t see anything in the proposed budget for next year that he would consider “unreasonable.” “It looks very fair and reasonable,” Gallagher said. “Still, I feel that a seven percent increase in the operating budget” puts other portions of next year’s appropriations “at risk,” he said. “This is a lot of money for voters,” Gallagher continued. “I still feel five percent is the magic number.” In response, Dr. LaBranche reiterated the problems associated with existing space limitations. “We’re already putting students in every nook and cranny,” he said. As for attempts to save money, LaBranche noted that additional improvements still need to be made regarding energy efficiency. “In this area, we’re still learning to creep before we walk,” he told school board members. LaBranche also mentioned that the new bus contract, slated to take effect next year, is expected to generate savings for the school district.
It is anticipated that the discussion of the proposed 2012-2013 school district operating budget will continue during the school board’s next meeting on December 19.
Girl Scouts Learn About Life in Windham
Front row: Amanda Jonson, Samantha Anderson, Jillian O’Connor, Abby Conaton, Riley Bermingham, Sydney Pesaturo, Leah Pisiello, Kiley Collins, Grace Harootian. Back row: Kim Monterio, Dennis Root.
From the left: Co-chairs Maureen Souma and Valerie Bronstein, members Suzanne Corcoran and Mary Ashburn.
submitted by Ruth Coole Tis the season! Veterans at the VA Medical Center in Manchester were greeted Wednesday, December 14, with Merry Christmas along with pretty gift bags filled with goodies and Christmas cards from the Windham Woman’s Club! Thank you to the following: First Parish Church in Derry, teaming together with Windham Woman’s Club in making handmade Christmas ornaments attached to gift bags, B.J.’s Wholesale Club and Targets in Salem - gift certificates, and Richard A. Workman, DMD, in Windham for dental toiletries, greatly appreciated! A heartwarming feeling to make the veterans, men and women, a wonderful and joyous Christmas! The Veterans Project is sponsored by the Windham Woman’s Club.
submitted by Girl Scouts of Troop 11180 In November, our Girl Scout Junior Troop went to visit the Windham Museum, which is in the building that used to house the Nesmith Library. We learned about life in Windham as far back as 200 years ago, back when the area was known as Londonderry Linens. Back then, girls would make their own dolls. When the boys were little, they wore dresses. People had old-fashioned eyeglasses. The beds were made out of cornstalks. The girls made and wore bonnets. People made their own clothes, and usually didn’t have more than a couple of outfits. They used bed warmers, covered metal pans filled with hot coals to heat their beds. The house at Johnson’s Farm had rooms to rent. Thank you to Mrs. Monterio and Mr. Root for showing us around the museum and teaching us about how life used to be.
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