ConVal proposes budget increases to accommodate long term COVID impacts

  • A ConVal School District bus. (Benji Rosen/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Benji Rosen

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/13/2021 5:51:08 PM

ConVal’s proposed operating budget for the 2021-22 school year is 4.04 percent higher than the current year’s, and includes provisions for a remote option for K-8 students, several new staff positions associated with student mental and social emotional health, and a continued expansion of preschool options.

The proposed operating budget is $50,298,177. The gross budget, excluding additional warrant articles, is $52,583,177 and includes the grant, special fund and food service expenses and is offset by equal amounts as projected revenue. It reflects a 2.63 percent increase over 2021. The operating budget for 2021 is $49,013,568, which is the sum of the operating budget and warrant articles to fund trusts.

The School Board’s Budget and Property Committee started the 2020-21 school year assuming everything would be back to normal by the start of the 2021-22 year, School Board member Jim Fredrickson said, but they have since instructed administrators to plan on having a flexible learning model for next year and beyond, which prompted the addition of several programs to this year’s budget.

“Remote learning is essentially the new norm going forward,” Fredrickson said, referring to the fact that the District must provide opportunities for remote learning for as long as New Hampshire’s state of emergency lasts, as well as the fact that some families have found remote learning preferable for their children. Just over 100 students in K-4 220 students in K-8 are participating remotely by choice right now, Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said. “Some parents say this has worked better for their child,” she said, and that those students are more engaged and comfortable in a remote environment. Building in a remote learning option for K-8 students that could endure beyond what’s required during the ongoing the state of emergency accounts for $780,000 of the proposed budget, she said.

Student mental, social, and emotional health have all been long term goals for the District, Rizzo Saunders said, but the pandemic has escalated the needs, leading to a proposed $425,000 in additional student supports, she said.

Expanding pre-kindergarten through a Preschool For All program has been another long-term goal of the District, Rizzo Saunders said. Although the proposed $144,000 is half of what was originally planned for next year’s portion of the two-year rollout, it was still important to administrators and School Board members to further the program, as many families in the District can’t afford preschool for their kids, and kindergarten teachers were seeing the results of incoming students who didn’t have the opportunity for an earlier school experience, she said.

“Even though times are dire, children don’t wait,” Board member Janine Lesser said. “If we can’t move to give them what they need at this young age… they will fall even farther behind,” she said. School districts are supposed to get a six dollar return on every dollar they spend in pre-kindergarten education, Board member Tim Theberge said, as early interventions in a child’s education are cheaper than what the school would have to do later to catch students up.

If the proposed budget doesn’t pass, the default operating budget would be $49,579,016, or about $720,000 less. The default budget is calculated by taking last year’s budget plus or minus one-time expenses, plus any legal or contractual obligations already in place, such as the collective bargaining agreement with the teacher’s union, Rizzo Saunders said. Cuts would be made starting with those having the lowest direct impact on students. “Personnel is usually the first place to go, we don’t make up [the difference] in pencils, supplies, and paper clips,” Rizzo Saunders said, in response to a caller’s question about how cuts would be prioritized if residents vote for a default budget.

Although $600,000 in offsets to this year’s budget is slated to come out of eligible trust funds, Rizzo Saunders acknowledged a caller’s concerns about long-term sustainability. The District has been using trusts as offsets for at least the past seven years to absorb the impact of declining funds from the state. “This is not sustainable, and we’re beginning to see the impact of that,” she said. Revenues to the District are projected to be down this year, she said. Local sources such as trust funds are down slightly, state sources of revenue are down, federal revenues increased slightly, and adequacy funding, which is based on a district’s student enrollment as of Oct. 1, is down, but not as much as in surrounding districts, she said.

COVID-19 was a major stressor on the school budget, Fredrickson told the audience, magnifying the urgency for the school’s existing tasks of providing education, safety, mental and emotional health for students while managing costs and maximizing flexibility. The long periods of remote learning did not result in savings despite some resident’s initial hopes, he said, and the pandemic resulted in $3.15 million in unanticipated costs of additional staffing, technology, personal protective equipment, cleaning, upgrades to the HVAC systems, and outdoor classrooms. The $1.2 million of that not paid for by grants was made up by canceling and deferring programs, and transferring budget monies, he said.


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