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Souhegan Proposes Lower Budget This Year

The Souhegan School Board’s proposed budget down 3.7 percent, but some are looking for more cuts.

The Souhegan School District is offering up a lower budget to voters this year, but some are calling for further reductions in response to declining enrollment.

The board’s proposed budget for FY14 is $17,762,262, which is 3.7 percent less ($681,565) than the default budget chosen by voters for FY13.

“We worked very hard to create an essential budget next year,” said board member Frances Harrow. “We looked  at what we absolutely needed.”

This proposed budget includes a reduction of 10.2 employees, including full-time teachers, administrative assistants, a paraprofessional and a reduction in custodian hours.

Harrow said that if voters turn down this budget in favor of the default budget ($17,620,192), funding for maintenance equipment, textbooks, technology upgrades and transportation services will suffer.

The majority of the SHS Advisory Finance Committee support the board’s proposed budget as a step in the right direction to adjust spending to enrollment declines in the school district. However, two committee members said that further cuts are necessary.

Committee member David Chen said that Souhegan’s cost per student is much higher than surrounding towns, including Milford, Merrimack, Bedford and Hollis-Brookline. He added that the student-teacher ratio does not match up to declining enrollment in the school district. Souhegan’s enrollment has fallen 22.5 percent from its highest point in the 2004-5 school year to 811 this year.

“We do not look good against other schools that are neighboring us,” said Chen.

While he commended the board for crafting a responsible budget, he said that the board should pursue more long term cuts to reflect the actual student population in the coming years.

Committee member Kathie Nunley proposed cutting special education staff.

Amherst voters will also cast their ballot on a two-year teacher and support staff agreement that will increase salary, benefits and COLA. The warrant article asks for $62,400 for this fiscal year, and $118,568 for the next, for a total of $180,968. The SHS Advisory Finance Committee fully supported this agreement.

The Amherst School District was unable to reach such an agreement with their teacher’s union, which has left them without a contract.

Bill Overholt January 12, 2013 at 07:34 PM
Your numbers are right on, according to the state Department of Education. Further, the outcomes, measured in number of AP courses, percentage of students taking them, scores on standardized tests, and a number of other objective measures bear out that the bang per dollar is a lot better at Hollis-Brookline and Bedford, schools in communities with very similar demographics with Souhegan's. BTW - to put some of the numbers in perspective - the $17,000 per year cost per student at Souhegan and the ~$11,000 at H-B are net of special ed, building principal and interest, and transportation, and are used by the state to make apples-to-apples comparisons. This is done because those three items vary dramatically from school to school.
03031 January 28, 2013 at 06:41 PM
What you all who are comparing Souhegan to Bedford and Hollis are forgetting is that we have very different tax rates. The current tax rate for Souhegan (25.37 per thousand for Amherst and 26.60 per thousand for Mont Vernon) is much higher than Hollis/Brookline (20.91) and Bedford (20.54). It is also important to note that Hollis/Brookline opened in 2001 and Bedford in 2007. Newer high schools attract new residents shifting home sales to those towns and increasing the revenue they receive. It is also important to factor in their commercial tax bases and populations. If you take a look at schools like Bow, Oyster River, and Dresden (Hanover's High School), you'll see that our cost per pupil numbers are more closely aligned. We compete with all of these schools academically. It is unfair to pick just Hollis/Brookline and Bedford to compare us. And it is very dangerous to view this data too simplistically. There are many factors that contribute to school budgeting. Yes, the enrollment has declined gradually at Souhegan by 20 to 50 students annually since 2005, however, one cannot use a business model to determine a school budget. Businesses can just stop making "widgets" or making fewer "widgets" when there is less demand, but schools still have to educate the whole child and provide diverse programming and maintain buildings and equipment regardless of the number of students.
Bill Overholt January 28, 2013 at 07:22 PM
The tax rates are reflective of the cost per student - Bedford and Hollis-Brookline are about $11,000 per student, and Souhegan is at $17,000, so it's not surprising that our tax rates are higher. It certainly is true that one can buy fewer widgets when enrollments go down - and widgets include personnel, as well. Think about number of employees we'd have if the enrollment never went up to the 1100 mark, and had never gone higher than today's enrollment. We would never had increased the staff as we have, and the student-teacher ratio would be more in line with what is needed.
03031 January 28, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Again, your thinking does not take into account that Souhegan has reduced staff over the last 7 years. Each year the number and type of staff are determined by looking at program needs and demand for certain courses. Let's not forget that a teacher in a high school is highly trained in a certain discipline. It's not like elementary school where you can shift teachers about based on enrollment changes from grade to grade. A math teacher and an english or social studies teacher have different areas of expertise and cannot be easily shifted around or let go. It is unfortunate that some members of the finance committee are suggesting that boards and administrations of the past were ignoring the decline in enrollment when determining level of staffing. Over the years, staff was increased when needed and decreased where it was felt it would not compromise the quality of education the communities of Amherst and Mont Vernon demand. What you are suggesting is that we keep producing "widgets" but make them of lesser quality or only partially complete.
mfw March 11, 2013 at 12:24 PM
Can we go back and look at the number of staff we had when historically, the student enrollment matched the projected number for next year? What was our cost per student then?

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