CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — An $8 million-plus school budget was discussed at The Chesterfield School Board public hearing on February 6, and the budget was casted in after the Chesterfield Budget Committee met Feb. 10.
Perhaps the most discussed topics at Saturday's meeting were regarding the $300,000 cut from the Special Instruction (special education, including summer program), the installation of a new math specialist position, and technology advances. Despite several changes to the 2016-2017 budget, it is down from last year.
"The budget we're proposing for this year is $8,251,861, a decrease of 1.46 percent," said Chesterfield School Board member Martin Mahoney. The board provided a 13-page packet containing the Chesterfield School District Budget and Warrant that included graphs and breakdowns of how money will be spent and has been spent in the past. According to Mahoney, the impact on revenue makes a big difference in terms of school funding and savings.
Though the budget is down 1.46 percent from last year, there will be a school property tax increase of .48 percent. According to Selectboard and Chesterfield Budget Committee chair, Bayard Tracy, the budget goes down and taxes will increase because the state is providing about $84,000 less in adequacy aid.
"The state's financial position is such that they are looking to scrimp, save and downshift expenses, and one place they do that is in adequacy aid," said Tracy.
At Saturday's hearing, the board discussed how and why the 21 accounts that drive the school's budget have changed. The first matter on the table was the Regular Instruction, which will see a 6.01 percent increase from last year's budget, which was compelled by high school enrollment. Next year they are projecting a high school enrollment of 144 students, which is up by 20 students and an increase of $188 per person. Mahoney noted that this increase is "somewhat offset" because the budget is down $28,5000 for salary and benefits and print media, and then slightly up for the combined cost supplies and numerous items of furniture and equipment.
As for the enrollment among elementary students, the board projects there will be a decrease of 24 students. Despite the estimates, it was mentioned that their numbers are not surely concrete.
"It's really difficult to keep those numbers constant because I can tell you that between now and September, you can change those numbers almost every day of the week, okay?" said Mahoney. "Projecting school is like projecting the weather."
One of the more noticeable changes to the budget was the amount of cuts that will be made. Five aids will be let go from the special education program due to the projected decrease in student enrollment and need for one-on-one care based on the children's Individualized Education Program (IEP). Nine general classroom aids will remain along with three aids that are specifically for individual students with greater needs.
"I think what's happened and what we've seen is the level of services we provided to identified students, which has allowed them to be more successful in the classroom," said Mahoney. "The supports we've given them has allowed them to be more successful in the classroom and as a result of that they haven't needed those specifics programs in the kind of depth and intensity that they've needed them in the past."
Mahoney believes that the success in students through this program is something they have long hoped for.
"That's a credit to the classroom teachers, because the ultimate goal by federal law is to provide a least restrictive environment for students and to be in the regular classroom, to be a part of the mainstream, still acknowledging the needs there and getting the supports. And I think the model that's worked has contributed to the fact that there are a fewer number of kids identified for special education," said Mahoney.
Another change to the budget for the 2016-2017 school year will be the installation of a full-time certified math specialist for students. One of the key ideas behind the position is to provide a common structural model across the board that teachers can rely on for what strategies work best.
"Ultimately here what they're doing is looking to add a math specialist to really tackle the increases they want to see with their math scores from their students," said Robert Malay, Superintendent of Schools SAU 29. "So this is a very unique way, but it's also a good way for other towns and districts to see the values of this, I think this is in response to where they are with their curriculum and how they've done with their curriculum."
Mahoney had something to add to the topic of the math specialist and summarized the need for it.
"Although our math scores have been consistent with state and national averages overall, we haven't been satisfied with the gain that some students on the lower levels have made," said Mahoney. "So creating this position will give us an opportunity to expand that level of services for the kids that aren't achieving at a level we would have liked and also provide enrichment for students at a higher level."
Aside from the proposed math specialist, Chesterfield is looking to make some adjustments around technology. School officials have proposed a 6.49 percent increase for their media budget which would move their librarian position from an 80 percent work week to a full-time position as a media journalist.
"The increase is largely driven by salary and benefits," said Mahoney. "The reason for that is we are looking to increase this position to full time." This librarian will provide technology training to students in grades kindergarten to third grade. They will learn skills such as programming, keyboarding, coding and the use of Word Processor software.
"It's using the computer and the language of computer technology to apply it both by instruction and in use of the testing program," said Mahoney. Chesterfield uses a testing program called Smarter Balance, which has a computer component. Mahoney believes this media journalist position will help prepare students for that test. The media journalist will teach students within their classroom and at their technology center that is located within the school.
"The earlier we can get the kids to increase their level of comfort around the use and application of technology, I think that's how the position is best served," said Mahoney.
This was not Chesterfield's only change in the budget in regards to this subject, The Selectboard proposed a 30.69 percent increase from last year's budget for technology. Officials are projecting a need for $50,666 that will cover a new lease for a copier, supplies, software, new equipment and replacement furniture.
The last item on the budget was regarding "transfers/other," where the Selectboard is predicting a 18.89 percent decrease. Board members propose that $75,000 will be moved to the Capital Reserve Fund and $10,000 to the Expendable Trust.
The Selectbaord also provided a school warrant that listed six articles, some which involve the Capital Reservve Fund. Article three asks the District to vote to raise and appropriate $65,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund for an energy controls project at the Chesterfield School.
Article four asks to raise, appropriate and authorize the School Board to transfer up to $50,000 to be used for renovation/reconstruction of the school's buildings and related costs.
Article five asks to authorize the School Board to transfer up to $10,000 into the Special Education/ High School Tuition Fund.
The articles will be acted upon at the Chesterfield Elementary School on March 12, 2016.