MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Wednesday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) Finance Committee approved a pair of proposed school district budgets for Fiscal Year ’22 as the Manchester School District deals with the fiscal realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a presentation Manchester School District Chief Financial Officer Karen DeFrancis, a level-funded school district budget for FY ’22 would come in at approximately $180 million and a budget meeting the city’s revenue/expenditure cap would come in at approximately $173 million.
The revenue side of that calculation begins with the FY ’21 appropriation of just over $183 million and then subtracts expected one-time stabilization grant funding of $6.8 million along with unexpected state aid shortfalls of $1.2 million due to lower enrollment figures and $4 million due to reduced free-and-reduced lunch aid, both coming fueled by the impact of COVID-19 on the school district. That revenue total also includes losses of approximately $580 in tuition from Hooksett and Candia students in Manchester’s schools as well as an addition $2 million increase allowed within the revenue cap as well as just over $240 million in additional non-tax revenues.
That ultimately results in a decrease of approximately $10 million, or the $173 million figure. With the district also facing an unexpected $2.6 million increase in staff retirement contributions forced by Concord and $282,000 in additional one-time costs from the Manchester Transportation Authority, the district administration is proposing approximately $5.2 million in cuts to salaries, staff health insurance and benefit reductions, cuts in special education costs and adjustments to the district’s debt service schedule in addition to $7.4 million in other reductions to arrive at a $10 million expense reduction, equaling the revenue reduction.
Within the approximately $7.4 million of additional reductions, the administration is requesting the BOSC ask the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) to forgive approximately $400,000 on a $2.8 million loan for textbooks, close portions of the city’s public high schools (saving $250,000) and remove 21.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions from the city’s elementary and high schools (approximately $1.1 million).
It is hoped that with approximately 50 retirements expected this summer according to Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt that the FTEs reductions can be obtained by not replacing those retiring staff members.
Additionally, 8.5 FTEs will be added as part of the new fifth grade class coming to Southside Middle School next fall at a cost of approximately $445,000 and 2.5 FTEs will be cut as part of the closure of Hallsville Elementary School (approximately $222,000).
The closure of Hallsville, which Goldhardt has said in the past would cost tens of millions of dollars to address infrastructural shortfalls according to a recent study, will also save the district approximately $287,000 every year in non-staffing savings starting in FY’ 22.
Initially, administration also sought to apply $2 million from a health insurance expendable trust fund that must be used over the next few years, but Finance Committee Chairman Arthur Beaudry recommended that the $2 million come from $26 million acquired by the school district in CARES Act funding.
Other potential uses discussed for the CARES Act funding included additional professional development days, summer enrichment programs and literacy and math intervention programs to help students catch up from skills that have atrophied during remote learning, class credit recovery programs and construction at McLaughlin and Hillside Middle Schools to complete the inclusion of fifth grade classes there.
However, DeFrancis noted these uses are still fluid and additional costs may be needed for the middle school construction due to federal grant requirements. The Finance Committee also had other ideas for that funding needs, with James Porter (Ward 1) recommending short-term instructors for each school to supplement the literacy and math intervention programs and Jeremy Dobson (Ward 5) recommending putting money toward badly needed deferred maintenance.
The Finance Committee unanimously recommended the $173 million and $180 million budgets, which go before the full BOSC on Feb. 17. If approved by the BOSC, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig then has until the end of March to incorporate one or both of the proposals into her city budget proposal to BMA.