City board joins coalition to study school funding

NASHUA – A coalition of communities that wants the state to use a more fair and adequate education funding formula just got a new member.

Members of the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night to join the Coalition for Adequate Education Funding, which was founded on the principle that the state’s tax structure needs to have the ability to pay for educational costs.

“I think we’re all after the same thing, which is more money from the state,” said school board member Michael Clemons, who will serve as the board’s representative on the coalition.

As a result of the board’s vote, Nashua now has a voice and a vote on that coalition, which consists of 67 communities in the state. Nashua also becomes the largest member community.

Last week, Michael Asselin, a selectman from the town of Danville, made a presentation to board members about the coalition and its goals. Some of the cities already members are Berlin, Keene, Rochester and Laconia, Asselin said.

The Board of Aldermen can also vote to join the coalition and add its collective voice to the process, but as a community Nashua will retain a single vote, according to school board members.

Asselin said that as a result of the state’s changing formulas for education funding, Nashua has lost $7 million in state aid in two years.

“This is not a one-year fight,” Asselin said. “This is a multi-year effort to achieve where New Hampshire should be in providing educational grants. Whatever is not funded by the state is shifted to the local level.”

It’s the loss of state funding in Nashua – more than $4 million this year alone – that has politicians scrambling to cut budgets or pass significant tax increases.

Mayor Bernie Streeter has demanded the school district level fund its budget, with the exception of $1.8 million set aside for the opening of the south high school.

Due to contractual increases in salaries and transportation as well as rising costs of energy and out-of-district special education placements, school administrators have said they have to cut $5 million from their proposed $84.3 million budget. That budget carries with it a $7.6 million, or 10 percent, increase over the current school budget.

The effect of $5 million in cuts for the school department has caused a stir in the community as school officials have talked about closing an elementary school, shutting down the 1-year-old alternative middle school, eliminating public kindergarten in the city and doing away with busing for high school students.

Due to the magnitude of those potential cuts, the school board has scheduled two additional budget committee meetings on March 3 and 4 for school administrators to present a more detailed list of specific cuts they need to make to meet the mayor’s guideline. It also postponed its budget public hearing until March 9.

“We’re going to go line by line, position by position and look at where we feel we can make reductions that will have minimal impact on our students,” school Business Administrator Mark Conrad said.

“We feel an obligation to make the mayor, the aldermen and the community understand what a level-funded budget looks like for us.”

If indeed these cuts will come, the board needs to create an action plan for what will have to follow, said Rick Dowd, the head of the board’s budget committee.

“I know the mayor has said we’re saber rattling, but we’re taking this as a serious situation,” Conrad said. “If the mayor is serious, we’re going to need to make decisions like closing schools that take advanced planning.”

Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at 594-6465 or