MANCHESTER, N.H. – As the next fiscal year approaches, Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt is announcing a host of measures to deal with expected budget shortfalls, including the recommended closure of Hallsville Elementary School.
The elementary school, which opened in 1891, received poor marks in regard to its infrastructural status during the first draft of a recent study of the school district’s buildings.
Those infrastructural needs, that Goldhardt says would require millions of dollars to address, collided with decreasing enrollment at the school that has made it the district’s smallest school by enrollment.
While Goldhardt praised the school’s staff, he believed that the district’s difficult long-term and short-term budget situation combined with increased services for students that can become more feasible with more concentrated school populations made this a difficult, but necessary, choice.
“There will be people who are sad and upset, that’s normal,” he said “There are definite feelings about (a school closure). Not an easy decision, not an easy thing to do.”
The decision on where Hallsville students would be placed has yet to be determined, although Goldhardt said that his hope is to keep as many current Hallsville students together as possible in another school. He ruled out the adjacent Henry Wilson Elementary due to its lack of room and stated that the students would likely stay within a school inside the Southside Middle School feeder system, as fifth graders from Hallsville are set to attend Southside this September.
Currently, Jewett Street Elementary is the only elementary school immediately adjacent to Hallsville within Southside’s feeder system.
Goldhardt added that he seeks to make any decisions through a transparent process that includes community feedback. Any final decisions on possibly selling the property would be determined at a future day by the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA).
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig was nostalgic about the school, which counts her grandmother and husband as alumnus, but she also respected Goldhardt’s recommendation.
“The administration considered many factors when making this difficult decision: fifth graders will be going to Southside in the Fall, there’s been a decrease in student enrollment, there are other schools in the neighborhood that have capacity, and the building is old and in poor condition,” she said in a released statement. “It’s important to note that class sizes will not be impacted, and staff will be retained and transferred to other schools. The ultimate goal is to provide a better learning environment, and more opportunities for our students and educators.”
The school closing was just one part of a series of cuts expected in Goldhardt’s proposed FY’ 22 budget.
Other proposals include the potential closures of certain floors or wings at other schools with low enrollment to save on energy costs, and a net reduction of 15.8 full-time equivalent positions across the district.
Goldhardt hopes that the position reductions can come entirely from not replacing retiring staff members, with approximately 50 staff members expected to retire this summer.
He is also requesting that the BMA forgive $400,000 of $2.8 million remaining on a loan they provided to the school district for textbooks and expects $3.4 million in cuts in areas yet to be determined.
The cuts are part of a larger series of adjustments brought on due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, the district is expecting approximately $7 million less in aid due to increased contribution requirements to staff retirement funds no longer being covered by the state as well as aid reductions tied to reduced enrollment and decreases in free and reduced lunch requests from parents.
Although enrollment numbers have been dropping in recent years, Goldhardt says that numbers could spike upwards following the COVID-19 pandemic due to the fact that the bulk of enrollment reductions have come from kindergarten-aged students who are not required to be enrolled in school under state law. Aid for free and reduced lunch requests may also return in future fiscal years once food deliveries associated with remote learning end.
The cuts also came in part due to $26 million in COVID-19 grant funding acquired last week and other recent COVID-related funding which could not be appropriated under the revenue portion of the city’s tax cap without budget adjustments.
Funding from that grants will be used to address construction of fifth-grade facilities at McLaughlin and Hillside Middle Schools, curriculum updates, three additional professional development days and a variety of other initiatives.
The Board of School Committee Finance Committee is set to discuss the proposals at their Feb. 10 meeting. Details can be found below.