School budget may cost city $10m more

NASHUA – Educating students in Nashua during the next school year could cost taxpayers nearly $10 million or more than it did this year.

Next year’s school budget will have to cover the opening of two high schools for the first time in the history of the city, increases in a new teacher contract and rising special education costs.

Those three items alone constitute nearly $4 million in new spending, which is already an increase of more than 5 percent over this year’s $74.9 million budget.

There is very little wiggle room in those increases and they could be just the beginning of the hike in costs for the next school year, according to a budget outline given to members of the Board of Education on Tuesday night.

That outline details nearly 90 new positions in the school district next year – more than half of them would be at either of the two high schools. Fourteen new teachers would be needed to expand the Academy of Learning and Technology at the high school level at a cost of about $490,000. Another 25 teachers may be hired to lower class sizes at the middle and high school levels at a cost of about $875,000.

And $1.5 million or more could be needed to move the school district to a two-tiered busing system instead of the current three-tiered system.

No one ever said opening two high schools was going to be cheap, but the preliminary budget increases for the school district during the next year might come as a shock to some. The increases add up quick.

All told, the preliminary budget contained about $9.5 million in new costs for next year.

For people with $200,000 homes, the potential increase could be $180 or more just to pay for education in the city.

Making matters even tighter for taxpayers will be an expected decrease of more than $4 million to the city from state funding for education.

“I’m not seeing bright spots on the horizon in terms of school funding as they continue to debate in Concord,” school district business administrator Mark Conrad told board members.

School board members knew next year’s school budget increases were going to be significant. Tuesday night was their first glimpse of how large those increases might be.

School board members were uncomfortable including any decrease in funding from the state in their budget.

“It’s too bad for all of us that this has happened, but I don’t think we should put this in our budget figures,” school board member Kim Shaw said. “We’re not responsible for the loss of this money at all.”

School board members wanted to see the budget organized in a way that attached a purpose to the dollar amounts. For instance, Edwina Kwan wanted items that go toward lowering the dropout rate earmarked in that category.

Shaw and other members stressed it’s their job to present a budget they feel will meet the educational needs of the students in Nashua. The budget process does not typically begin until January for the Board of Education, but Conrad said he wanted to give the board a heads up on what lies ahead.

“Our intention tonight was to present some pressing budget items,” Conrad said after the meeting. “We were trying to give people an order of magnitude of the increases they will see.”

Conrad said none of the increases should have been unexpected.

Tuesday’s presentation did not cover any expected decreases, which are usually outlined in the overall budget, such as savings from teacher turnover. A more detailed budget analysis will be issued next month, Conrad said.

Two people at the meeting were board members-elect Jack Kelley and Mary Ann Melizzi Golja. School board members Mike Clemons and Vincent Capasso were absent. No members of the public were present.