Wednesday, January 9th, Superintendent Mark Conrad gave a presentation to the Board of Education as a prelude to the school budget process for FY2014. There were two main pieces of information: We are likely to receive $500,000 less in state and federal subsidies, and the student population is projected to continue to decline for the next decade.
The comments from those in attendance were almost exclusively focused on the bad news about the revenue projections and overlooked the great opportunity we have before us.
There were printed handouts which contained details on the student population comparing 2012-2013 enrollment to 2013-2014 projections. Three options were presented with the goal of addressing the kindergarten student/teacher ratios: Redistribute the existing staff, hire new staff for kindergarten, and hire new staff across K-5.
It is important to note: The average student/teacher ratios of our two high schools are lower than our K-5, all the ratios are close to 21:1 which is quite a bit lower than that allowed in the teachers' union contracts (~28:1), and all the ratios are much lower than in Manchester.
I'd like to offer two things for consideration.
First, imagine if the student enrollment was projected to increase. That would present a difficult funding problem. Imagine if the enrollment were to increase a lot. That would present a really difficult funding problem. By analogy we see that health insurance premiums are getting out of control and are making all our budgeting difficult. Here we have a situation where student enrollment has been declining for 7 years and is projected to continue to decline. This is a HUGE blessing that seems to have been overlooked. This is a huge opportunity to keep our school budget under control and address other pressing needs around the city.
Second, imagine if we were is such a dire situation where the only way to balance our budget was to reduce staff to a point where all our student/teacher ratios were at the limit of what our teachers' contracts allow (without penalties.) I haven't done the analysis in depth but since we are roughly 33 percent below the allowable ratio limit we could conceivably reduce our teacher staff by 33 percent, which would reduce our school budget by approximately 30 million dollars.
Of course, I am not suggesting that we eliminate teaching positions. But I am suggesting that we be mindful of our reduced revenue and reduced student enrollment and maintain our current staffing. We can redistribute the teaching positions across all of K-12 and mitigate all concerns regarding large classroom sizes. As the years go by the ratios will continue to improve.
With this as an approach we will be in a much better position to properly fund road repairs which are lacking, support to our police department to counter recent increases in crime, and provide support to the fire department to protect all the new housing developments around Nashua. Finally, when the economy improves we can provide bonuses and increased salaries for those teachers who are already a part of our community.
Dan Moriarty is an Alderman for the city of Nashua.