School district to leave 53 jobs unfilled

NASHUA – Leaving 53 full- and part-time vacant positions unfilled for the upcoming school year, including 23 teachers, is necessary to make up a portion of a projected $3 million budget shortfall.

As incoming Superintendent Mark Conrad outlined the positions that he and other administrators had decided would need to remain vacant, he was clear that this was only the first step to make up the difference.”All of these positions have a real impact on education,” Conrad said. “But what’s driving us through this process is the need to meet that fiduciary responsibility.”

The 53 positions total $1.64 million in costs, which will go toward offsetting the projected deficit for this year, the estimate of which actually grew by $1 million over the past week as Conrad looked deeper into the numbers.

Schools officials had said last week that in addition to last year’s $3.3 million in overspending, the district was projecting a $2 million deficit for the upcoming school year.

Conrad said a review of what is budgeted for severance for this year against the district’s liabilities revealed another “significant deficit” of approximately $800,000.

Of the positions remaining vacant for this year, 24 are at the elementary level. Eight are at the middle schools, 13 at the high schools, and eight are district-wide positions.

In addition to the 23 teaching positions, 22 paraprofessionals, four secretaries, two administrators, one repair technician and a school psychologist position will not be filled.

Vacant Positions

Those positions only make up half of the projected deficit. Conrad said he would be meeting next with the administration team to look at other non-personnel costs in the budget that could be frozen.

“We would expect to come back with a second step in this process,” he said.

If at that point the district still hasn’t reached $3 million in savings, Conrad said, “That’s when the discussion will get even tougher.”

Still unknown is what happened in the budget process that led to a total of more than $6 million in deficit over the past two years.

Conrad has formed a committee to investigate that. But in the meantime, Conrad said it was imperative for the district to act as quickly as possible to try to make up the projected shortfall for this year.

The options were limited to the positions that were vacant, Conrad said.

“We began with premise that we’d leave every position that was available as vacant,” he said.

From there, he and interim Superintendent Ed Hendry worked with principals and department heads to identify which positions were absolutely necessary to open the doors for the beginning of the school year.

There were a list of positions also presented that the district is moving forward with filling.

Conrad, who was the district’s business administrator for 10 years, is splitting time between Nashua and Bedford before taking over full time Aug. 31.

Although not technically required to vote on it, the Board of Education voted 7-1 to support the district’s recommendation.

Board member Robert Hallowell said he reluctantly had to support the move.

“I’m no happier than anybody else,” he said. “I don’t see any way around it.”

These actions are necessary now to save the money needed to fill the shortfall in the budget, he said.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “I’m on this board for another two years. I hope to fix it.”

Board member Rick Dowd said in the future, the district must make sure there is a contingency fund available for a situation like this. But in the meantime, he had to support the move.

“I don’t think we have a lot of alternatives at this point,” he said.

Sandra Ziehm was the only member to vote against it. She accused other board members of taking it on face value that this was the only option. She said she’d prefer go to the Board of Aldermen and beg for money before voting to reduce staff for this year.

“The bottom line is that our children are the ones who are paying for this,” she said. “I just can’t in good conscience vote to mutilate our staff.”

Later in the meeting, Hallowell took issue with Ziehm’s comments.

“I don’t appreciate being told that I’m mutilating the staff,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what’s happening.”

Conrad stressed that just because the positions are left unfilled now, it doesn’t mean they can’t be filled sometime during the school year if it’s determined they are necessary.

“We’re not making irrevocable decisions,” Conrad said. “If we decide we need that position, we can come back and talk about that.”

And as preparations for next year’s budget begin, Conrad said all of those positions would be treated as being in the budget.

Conrad cautioned that just because a position is labeled at a certain school, doesn’t mean it would stay there; the district would reassign staff as necessary to fill the holes.

“These are vacancies we’re going to use to move staff around as we need to balance them out,” he said.

One of the administrative positions being left vacant is the supervisor of math and science. Conrad said this was particularly troubling for him, with the district set to roll out a new K-5 science curriculum this year.

“Now the person who would be working to put that in place isn’t here,” Conrad said.

Conrad noted that the district’s technology department was also taking a big hit. That will mean that in addition to computers that are aging, there will be fewer people available to get them back online, he said.

Another impact will be some class sizes increasing to 25 or 26 students at the fourth- and fifth-grade levels and the need to drop some class offerings at the high school level, including Latin 4, Conrad said.

Special education, the district’s gifted and talented program and the district’s English Language Learner program will also see some staff reductions this year, Conrad said.