Sporting chance for middle schools

NASHUA – School board members won’t be sacrificing their stipends to help pay for middle school athletics.

At least not for now.

As the budget debate about middle school athletics continued last week, Jack Kelley argued he and his fellow school board members should give up their $4,000 stipends and put the $36,000 toward saving the middle school athletics program.

Kelley said giving up stipends would be a way for the board to directly affect the issue.

The motion failed, however, after only Kelley and board member Charlie Katsohis supported it.

Board member Bob Hallowell said there should be a rational discussion about the budget and the proposals before making decisions like this. He added that board members need the stipend for legitimate uses.

“Quite frankly, I think it’s a gimmick,” Hallowell said.

That discussion is expected to continue Monday at a public hearing on the proposed school district budget. The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Nashua High School North.

Many parents have already expressed strong opposition to a proposal to eliminate the interscholastic athletics program at the middle schools and replace it with an intracity league program.

Currently, teams from the three middle schools are part of the Tri-County League and compete against schools from other towns in the state.

Under the budget proposal being considered by the Board of Education, the athletics program would be cut by 4 percent, or $37,531. Several other departments are facing similar cuts.

To meet the athletics budget cut, a committee of administrators, teachers and parents developed a proposal to eliminate the middle school athletic program, which would save $98,763.

Using $46,232 of that money, a new middle school youth program would be developed, which would consist of a competitive intracity league among the middle schools, as well as mentoring programs and field trips to high school sporting events.

The rest of the savings, $15,000, would go toward funding high school athletic equipment.

Peter Casey, director of athletics, has said one of the primary benefits of the new program is that more middle school students would be able to participate in competitive sports.

At a budget meeting Thursday night, a small group of parents and residents pleaded with the school board to keep the current middle school athletics program in place.

Parent Julie Goulet said her son, a sixth-grader, tried out for sports and didn’t make the team. After being disappointed briefly, she said he was determined to try out again next year.

Goulet, who also played middle school sports, said students aren’t in favor of the plan, and parents have started a petition and said they had collected around 300 signatures.

Her concern is also that there is confusion about what’s being proposed.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s a clear plan,” she said.

David Padley, Goulet’s father, said his concern is that once the program is eliminated, there is a good chance it will never return.

The budget being proposed for next year by Superintendent Christopher Hottel is $88.4 million, which would be a 2.4 percent increase over this year’s budget. That would go beyond Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s request for city departments to stay within a 1 percent increase for next year.

Kelley said the board shouldn’t concern itself with meeting Lozeau’s budget request and should focus on the needs of students. The board’s responsibility is to provide an education to students, “not to adhere to the taxpayers of Nashua,” he said.

“I don’t think we should hand in what we don’t consider an adequate budget for the school district,” he said.

Hallowell said it’s also the board’s responsibility to show restraint in spending.

“I live in Nashua,” he said. “I am responsible to taxpayers at some level, whether other members of the board want to be or not.”

For every percent the school district goes beyond the 1 percent mark, that would have to come from some other department, he said.

It’s ultimately up to the Board of Aldermen to determine how much funding each department receives.

Robert Sherman, president of the Nashua Teachers Union, raised several concerns about the cuts being proposed in the budget, including the elimination of 37 special education paraprofessionals.

Those paraprofessionals provide direct services to students and are providing substitute coverage for teachers, at times, he said.

Sherman also said there is more information needed about some of the new positions being proposed, including the four reading intervention teachers at the middle schools and four math/literacy coaches at the high schools.

The district would have a net loss of eight teaching positions in the district. Mealey said the district should be able to eliminate positions through attrition and said there wouldn’t likely be a need for layoffs.

Some board members expressed openness to exploring ways to generate revenue through advertising at sporting events or increasing the ticket prices at games.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Mealey explained a miscalculation in the amount of money that had been set aside for wage increases for teachers.

The district had originally set aside $2.4 million in increased wage costs for teachers, which was a 5 percent increase in costs from this year.

But Thursday night, Mealey said he had miscalculated and that the wage increases for next year should have been set at 6.98 percent. That means the cost for next year would actually go up $3.2 million, he said.

To make up the difference, Mealey recommended taking $718,241 out of the revenue fund that comes from tuition from out-of-district students enrolled in the career and technical education program.

Mealey said that would leave about $56,000 in that account, which generates $160,000 a year.

The rest of the difference would be made up from using $255,000 from money raised by renting out district facilities, he said.

“That puts us in the same place, but removes some of the flexibility that we had,” he said.

Mealey said the district would need to propose legislation to use the revenue to offset the difference in the budget.