MANCHESTER, N.H. – Members of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) and the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) gathered on Tuesday for a pair of committee hearings on a pair of timely Manchester School District topics.
The Joint Committee on School Buildings received notice that renovations at Southside Middle School to add fifth grade students are within the projected $150,000 and that a hangar that will hopefully house a joint Manchester School of Technology/Manchester-Boston Regional Airport aeronautical program is set to open next week.
They also discussed Wednesday’s scheduled special meeting of the BOSC’s Committee on Finance and Facilities and a proposed study recommending the closure of four older elementary schools, the construction of a brand-new elementary school the renovation of several other schools in the city.
Alderman Barbara Shaw (Ward 9) said she would prefer to utilized unused space in Manchester’s schools to lower class sizes, preferably with a maximum of 20 students per classroom.
Alderman Ross Terrio (Ward 7) also wondered if it was appropriate to take the study’s results with a grain of salt given that is was conducted entirely during the pandemic, but it was noted that the study took over a decade of information into account.
Alderman Anthony Sapienza (Ward 5) and Joseph Kelly-Levasseur (At-Large) also voiced their concerns over the study recommending the closure of schools after other recent studies noted overcrowding at elementary schools in recent years, one of the key reasons behind the move to place fifth-grade students in middle schools.
During the Special Joint Committee on Education, Manchester School District Chief Financial Officer Karen DeFrancis provided an update on the district’s current shortfall in advance of the FY ’22 budget.
DeFrancis told the committee that the district is currently $7.8 million below expected budget projections due to three issues.
The first came due to 2000 fewer free-or-reduced lunch applications submissions compared to the previous year, accounting for $4.1 million of the deficit in terms of reduced adequacy aid. Currently all families are receiving no-cost food, leading some families that may be eligible for free-or-reduced lunch to not fill out applications.
The district is also set to lose $1.2 million in adequacy aid due to enrollment decreases. However, the lost aid can be regained if enough families qualifying for reduced next October. Likewise, the reduced aid from reduced enrollment could change depending on enrollment issues by the beginning of next November.
Additionally, DeFrancis said that given similar changes in school districts elsewhere in New Hampshire, some adequacy aid may be unspent and could be distributed through grant programs.
The rest of the shortfall comes from a change in the state’s retirement system, which will cost the district $2.5 million.