School budget proposal calls for 2.36 percent increase

NASHUA – Superintendent Christopher Hottel is recommending a budget for next year that goes beyond Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s request for departments to stay within a 1 percent increase.

On Tuesday night, Hottel proposed a school district budget of $88.4 million for the 2009-10 school year, which would be a 2.36 percent increase over this year’s budget of $86.3 million.

Even though the budget is increasing, the district would still be eliminating eight teaching positions overall, as well as 44 special education paraprofessional positions, two secretaries, five custodians and one school nurse.

Among the positions that would be added are four technology integration assistants, two high school attendance officers, two speech and language pathologists and four high school math and literacy coaches.

Even though Lozeau’s request left room for a 1 percent increase, the school district has $3.1 million in contracted salary increases for next year, which meant there would have to be cuts to make up the difference.

Hottel said he was cognizant of Lozeau’s request, but said he didn’t think the district would be able to maintain necessary services with only a 1 percent increase.

“It’s my job to say, ‘These are the funds we need,'” he said.

Among the things that were added to the budget by going beyond Lozeau’s request were three unified arts teachers and four math and literacy coaches at the high schools.

The district would also maintain an additional $183,000 for building maintenance and $52,000 for computer maintenance and repair. Both of those areas would still be reduced but not as much under Hottel’s proposal.

Hottel said these were key areas of the budget that needed to be addressed. Students and teachers should be able to expect that technology in the district will be maintained, he said.

It’s now up to the Board of Education to determine whether to vote to ratify Hottel’s proposal and send it to the mayor or change the amount the district is requesting.

The board could also recommend changes within the budget, with regard to how the money is being spent.

The school department makes up the largest portion of the city’s budget. It is ultimately up to the Board of Aldermen to determine how much funding each department gets.

Of the $3.1 million in raises for next year, $2.4 million is to pay for increased wages for teachers.

The money set aside in the budget proposal for would be a 5 percent increase in wages for teachers, even though the contract appears to call for a 6.98 percent increase in wages.

Jim Mealey, the district’s chief operating officer, said he wasn’t sure why there was a discrepancy but said the agreement with the union has always been for a 5 percent increase in wages for next year.

Mealey said he didn’t expect the need for any layoffs due to staff reductions. All of the position reductions should be able to be met as employees leave before the start of next year, he said.

“You wouldn’t be talking about a lot of people. You’d be talking about positions,” he said.

The budget would also include increasing the cost of a high school bus pass from $50 to $65, which would create $26,340 in additional revenue. Funding for video cameras on buses would be reduced by $16,800.

The two high school attendance officers would be used to reduce truancy, which could become more of an issue next year, as the state’s raise in the minimum dropout age to 18 goes into effect.

Under Hottel’s proposal, 44 special education paraprofessionals would also be eliminated. Hottel said the district’s special education director has looked at places where paraprofessional positions can be reduced.

The technology integration assistants would work in the computer labs in the elementary schools and work with students on computer literacy.

The middle schools would lose 10 teaching positions next year, but Hottel said enrollment is expected to decline, which would help to offset that reduction.

The next budget meeting is scheduled for Thursday night. The public hearing on the budget will be held Monday night.