Budget process going smoothly

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 10, 2018 6:36PM

There were only a smattering of public comments during a hearing regarding Mascenic Regional School District’s proposed budget on Monday.

Interim Superintendent Stephen Russell and Business Administrator Beth Baker presented a PowerPoint Presentation about its Fiscal Year 2019 budget to the small group that gathered for the meeting. The proposed budget including warrant articles is $19,287,637. That’s a $212,334, or 1.1 percent increase, over its Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

The increase comes as enrollment has steadily declined over time. The district has lost 80 students, or 7 percent of its total enrollment, since 2014. The decline in enrollment is also attached to the state aid it receives, which is dependent on average daily membership. The district has lost about $300,000 in state aid and federal funding over the last two years.

The largest contributor to the proposed budget increase is a $297,139 spike in medical-plan changes.

The budget includes some staffing reductions, which includes the loss of a math teacher at the high school. Baker said the teacher who is currently filling that position is planning to retire at the end of the year and the district has decided not to fill it. The middle school will also lose a band teacher, an adaptive physical education teacher, interventionist, who are all part-time employees.

The district does plan to add staff as well. It plans to hire a full-time elementary school paraprofessional. It has also proposed shifting some of its part-time positions to full-time ones, including an elementary school assistant principal position, a part-time middle school computer teacher, and an administrative assistant position.

Edward Rogers, a math teacher at the high school, expressed concern over cutting the part-time band teacher at the middle school. Rogers said he would like to see the position become full-time instead of being axed.

“I’m concerned if we keep going in this direction we won’t have a music department at Mascenic,” Rogers said during the public comment period.

Russell assured him that the school was not doing away with the music program and instead utilizing the staff it already has in a more efficient manner.

Part of the presentation included test scores across three different grade levels at Mascenic. Russell said the scores need work. 

The number of third-grade students receiving a proficient or above mark in reading and math on the state assessment is above the state average. But the results for sixth and eighth grade reading and math are both lower than state averages. During the 2016/ 2017 school year, 44 percent of students in sixth grade scored proficient or above in reading. The state average was 57 percent. That same school year, 22 percent of sixth-graders scored proficient or above in math. The state average was 46 percent. A similar scenario played out in eighth grade, where 40 percent of students at Mascenic scored proficient or above in reading compared to the 58 percent state average. Only 30 percent of eighth grade Mascenic students scored proficient or above in math, compared the 45 percent average.

“We’re still way off,” Russell said of those numbers.

Russell said things like participation in honors society, sports activities, and a decline in disciplinary actions, among other things, also play a role in depicting the overall health of the district.

Meryl Higgins, who lives in New Ipswich and is a parent, said she was satisfied to see that the district isn’t trying to make deep cuts in the budget.

“Some years I’m sitting there and all I keep hearing is, ‘bare bones, bare bones,’ and being a teacher myself for a little while, I don’t like to hear bare bones,” she said during the meeting.

She said as a taxpayer she’s “very happy” to see additions being made.

Already, Mascenic spends less per student than the state average, according to a document handed out during the hearing. The document says Mascenic spends about $13,439 per student while the state average is about $15,310 per students. The document also lists three other districts in the area, including Conant, ConVal, and Wilton-Lyndeborough, which all spend more than Mascenic per student.

If taxpayers don’t pass the proposed budget, it will be forced to fall back on an $18,874,705 alternative. Russell said it’s unclear at this time what the district would shave from the budget if taxpayers voted to adopt the default budget.

The board will hold a deliberative session regarding its proposed budget on Feb. 3 at 9 a.m. Taxpayers will vote on the proposed budget on March 13.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.