Principals to forgo $6k in bonuses for schools

NASHUA – When trying to find ways to save $3 million in a school district budget, $6,000 can seem like a drop in the bucket.

Even so, district administrators praised principals for contributing to the effort by volunteering to give up $1,000 bonuses that had been set aside for the six city schools that met testing benchmarks last year.

The Board of Education approved the bonuses for the schools earlier this summer, before the school district’s financial crisis came to light.

Interim Superintendent Ed Hendry said principals brought up the idea of giving back the money at a recent meeting to discuss ways to meet the projected $3 million deficit in this year’s budget.

“The elementary principals, with no prodding, on their own said they would like to give those up,” Hendry said. “They felt it was not the time to be accepting a bonus with the struggles the district is going through.”

The money was going to go to schools that made Adequate Yearly Progress last year, a measurement used by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The money was not meant to be used as extra salary for staff but was intended for some type of celebration of the schools’ accomplishments.

Among the six schools that would have received the money are five elementary schools: Amherst Street, Bicentennial, Birch Hill, Dr. Norman W. Crisp and Main Dunstable.

Pennichuck Middle School also would have received the extra funding. The state originally said Pennichuck missed AYP, but the district successfully appealed the state’s findings.

Because the board voted to give the bonuses, members had to vote to rescind them Monday night.

Board President Tom Vaughan thanked the principals for stepping up and contributing to the need to save anywhere possible, even if it may seem like a small amount.

“We are grateful to the principals to take that action to return the money,” he said.

In addition to last year’s over expenditure of $3.36 million, district officials discovered this summer that they need to shave $3 million from this year’s budget due to not enough being set aside for costs such as severance and special education.

The Board of Aldermen will consider Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s proposal to make up last year’s shortfall by taking the money out of the city’s school capital reserve fund.

To address this year’s budget, school district officials have already decided not to fill 53 vacant full- and part-time positions, which will save the district $1.6 million.

Because the budget year had already started, layoffs were not an option and the district could only look to positions that hadn’t yet been filled.

Mark Conrad, the city’s incoming superintendent, said he and other administrators continue to look for ways to make up the rest of the projected shortfall without cutting further into staff.

Those additional cuts may come in areas such as overtime and school supplies, Conrad said. He told the board he would have a plan to reach the entire $3 million shortfall by the end of next week.

Conrad stressed that while cutting $3 million out of the budget certainly will have an impact on educational services, he is still confident that the district can have a productive year.

“The reality is we expect to be ready to open our doors for a successful year,” he said.

The district still will be able to pursue key initiatives and meet its obligations to students, including those with special needs, he said.

That being said, Conrad outlined the specific impact leaving 53 positions vacant will have. Among the 53 positions are 23 teaching positions that were in the schools last year but won’t be this year.

Conrad said this would result in some increased class sizes in the fourth and fifth grades, up to as many as 25 to 26 students in a class.

At the high school level, Latin 4 had to be eliminated and there will be some increased class sizes in the core subject classes at Nashua High School South, Conrad said.

In special education, there will be higher caseloads for some case managers, Conrad said. The district looked for areas where case managers had lower than average caseloads, he said.

Among the programs that will be hardest hit is REACH, the district’s gifted and talented program.

Conrad said two of the program’s seven positions would remain unfilled.
Conrad made clear that just because they are being left vacant this year doesn’t mean that will carry over the following school year.

Other areas being looked at for savings are trips for conferences and purchasing new textbooks. Conference attendance only will be permitted this year if it is funded through a grant, Conrad said.

The district was looking at purchasing a new series of algebra textbooks, but “we’ve since stepped back from that order,” Conrad said. The district will still replace outdated and worn textbooks as needed, he said.

“These actions collectively will have an impact on education in the short term,” Conrad said. He added they would continue to have an impact in the long term if budget problems are not addressed.