Portsmouth starts intensive review of school budget

Portsmouth starts intensive review of school budget


Hathaway SchoolPORTSMOUTH — The School Committee has begun the painful process of going through next year’s budget with a fine-tooth comb in hopes of finding significant savings.

The committee scheduled three consecutive meetings this week alone — Monday through Wednesday — to whittle away at the spending plan for the district, which is expected to lose about $531,000 in local revenue next year — nearly a 25 percent decrease.

Of that amount, about $246,000 represents a reduction in state aid under the governor’s budget. The schools are assuming a 2.4 percent increase in the appropriation from the Town Council.

“We must bring our expenses in line with our revenues, or find new revenues,” Committee Chairman David Croston said at the start of Tuesday’s meeting.

The most difficult part of the budget process will undoubtedly be meeting the committee’s goal of eliminating a dozen staff positions to save about $652,600.

Those proposed staff reductions, which add up to 12.1 full-time equivalent positions, are as follows:

• Hathaway and Melville schools: one student services coordinator, one student support specialist/guidance, one grade 3 teacher due to retirement and one instructional coach

• Middle school: one special education teacher, 0.5 instructional coach, 0.5 interventionist, one food and nutrition and one grade 6 teacher due to a “class size optimization”

• High school: one special education, 0.4 foreign language, 0.5 teacher who’s returning from sabbatical leave, 0.2 physical education

• District wide: one information technology (IT) position

Tuesday’s budget portion of the meeting featured presentations by Elizabeth Viveiros, principal of Melville School, and Lisa Little, interim principal of Hathaway School. Ms. Viveiros said it would be difficult to maintain the same level of learning with the proposed staff reductions.

Ms. Little agreed, saying the cuts proposed at the elementary school involve teachers who advocate for students and work to lessen the gap between high-performing pupils and those with individualized education programs (IEPs).

“In the few short months I have been at Hathaway, I cannot say enough about the student services coordinator,” she said, referring to one of the positions targeted for a cut.

The only “easy one,” said Ms. Little, is the reduction of a grade 3 teacher, as one such instructor — Cindy Kneller — retired last year.

Mr. Croston said he respected that the principals were advocating for their peers, but that the district must take a longterm look at the budget picture. “It is sobering, but we must look at the longterm implications of where we stand today,” he said.

The two principals also detailed some expense reductions going forward. They include decreases in start-up costs for all-day kindergarten, fewer purchases of library books due to the increase in web-based materials and a reduction in copying costs.

Superintendent search

Also Tuesday night, the committee voted unanimously to advertise for a new superintendent of schools on the national job website SchoolSpring.

Barbara E. McGann is the current superintendent, but she was chosen for an interim basis only following the resignation of Lynn Krizic last August.

Committee member Emily Copeland lauded Ms. McGann for leading the district with her “grace and steady guidance … Unfortunately we knew from the beginning it as going to be an interim.”

Mr. Croston said the job posting would be available on March 7, and answers from candidates are due back March 24.

The district is also closer to selecting a new Hathaway School principal to succeed Suzanne Madden. (Lisa Little is serving in that position in the interim.)

“We’ve engaged in an intensive, national search,” said Ms. McGann, adding that a focus group was put together consisting of parents and committee members.

The district received applications from 37 “well-qualified” candidates which has been narrowed down to two, she said.

“We are in the final stretch of superintendent interviews,” said Ms. McGann, who hopes to have a recommendation for the committee by its next regular meeting.