Hikes lead to teacher losses

Souhegan sees mandatory increases in spending

AMHERST – Four teach­ing postitions at Souhegan High School are being cut to make up for mandatory increases in school spend­ing.

At the Jan. 11 public hearing on next year’s bud­get, School Board Chair­man Mary Lou Mullins said budget work this year was "particularly disheart­ening" because it started with almost $1 million in mandatory spending that would have increased the budget by 5.44 percent "be­fore we even bought an ex­tra piece of paper."

The budget for the Mont Vernon-Amherst school district is now at $18 mil­lion, a 2.07 percent in­crease, because of staff reductions of $600,000, including $433,000 worth of teaching positions. The cuts are based mostly on projected decreases in enrollment, Mullins said.

The board also moved a paving project out of the budget and into a sepa­rate warrant article.

Among the nondiscre­tionary items driving up spending are health in­surance, transportation, special education tuition and New Hampshire re­tirement fund costs "that continue to be pushed down to the local level," Mullins said.

Board member Steve Coughlan talked about Souhegan’s cost per pu­pil, which has been a continuing issue. A graph showed Souhegan’s cost per pupil is fourth high­est in the state, with Mil­ford at the state average. For 2018, Souhegan’s cost per pupil will be about $19,400.

During the public com­ment period, resident Margaret McCabe told school officials the school is overstaffed and that 10 more positions should be eliminated.

Lynn Briggs said the student-teacher ratio should go up to at least 18-1 because taxpayers are "struggling to pay the bills."

In response to one man who asked what would happen if the budget was cut by 10 percent, board member Peter Maresco said it would have "a dev­astating impact on the quality of education."

Also on the warrant is the $94,500 cost of a one-year agreement be­tween the board and the school’s teaching and support staff.

Coughlan, who said the negotiations were one of the most difficult in his 10 years on the board, said they resulted in a fixed pay increase of $750 for almost all teachers and a 2 percent increase for support staff.

Neither group has had a raise in two years. The health insurance has a "significant tilt" toward a lower cost plan, Cough­lan said, which he said saves money for both em­ployees and the district.

The two sides agreed to begin negotiations early next year, he said, and to address teacher work­load and class size.

The other warrant ar­ticles include a $65,000 addition to the school maintenance fund, only if there is a surplus, and $150,000 to pave part of the school driveway and parking spaces.

If all warrant articles pass, Amherst property owners would see a tax rate increase of 49 cents per thousand and Mont Vernon would see an in­crease of $1.03.

The operating budget alone would mean a 34 cent increase for Am­herst and an 84 cent in­crease for Mont Vernon.

There will be more discussion about school spending at the district’s Deliberative Session at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6, in the school theater. Voting day is Tuesday, March 14.