School staff cuts a possibility in Nashua

NASHUA – Principals and department heads say tight budgets could mean that scores of positions, both teachers and support staff, may have to be cut from city schools next year.

The concern has arisen because Mayor Donnalee Lozeau is asking all city departments, including the schools, to stay within a 1 percent increase for next year’s budget.

With an $86.3 million budget this year, the school department makes up the largest portion of city spending. A 1 percent increase would mean roughly $860,000 more in 2009-10.

The problem facing the school department is that it has $3.1 million in contracted raises for next year, $2.36 million of which pay for salary increases for teachers.

By contract, the cost of wages to the city for teachers is going up 6.8 percent next year, which includes both raises and annual step increases.

Jim Mealey, the district’s chief operating officer, has said that in order to meet Lozeau’s budget directive, it is likely that most – if not all – of the district’s programs can only be funded at 96 percent of the current level.

Last week, department heads presented their proposals for how to make the necessary 4 percent cuts to their budgets.

Christopher Gosselin, principal of Main Dunstable Elementary School, said that in order to meet the cut at the elementary level, there was no other option than to reduce positions.

Of the $16 million elementary school budget, roughly $15 million is staff, he said.

As a result, the elementary schools would lose the equivalent of 14.5 full-time teaching positions to meet a 4 percent cut in its budget. They would also cut $2,200 in supplies, he said.

“We can’t have a quality educational

experience for our children without the right people standing before them and giving them that experience,” Gosselin said.

The same potential for cutting positions is seen in other departments, as well.

Paul Asbell, principal of Pennichuck Middle School, said the three middle schools would lose a combined 10 teachers under a 4 percent cut in department spending.

“What this will mean is less individual attention for individual students,” he said.

Superintendent Christopher Hottel is expected to make his budget proposal to the board of education Tuesday night. Hottel could propose to go beyond Lozeau’s recommended budget request.

It will then be up to the board to come up with a finalized budget to propose to the city. The board of aldermen has the final say on how much each department gets for next year.

At the high school level, David Ryan, principal of Nashua High School North, said they would be looking at cutting six teachers.

Ryan said the high schools might also be able to save money by implementing a modified schedule, which means seniors who have already earned enough credits to graduate could take only three courses, rather than the required four, in a semester.

Ryan said the change to a modified schedule would have to be approved by the school board.

Eric Schroeder, director of special education, said 44 special education paraprofessionals would be eliminated under a 4 percent cut to his department.

Under a 4 percent cut, Shawn Smith, director of plant operations, said he would have to cut eight custodians – four at the high schools and four at the elementary schools.

“I’m more concerned about the elementary schools,” Smith said. “They’re really minimally funded.”