PORTSMOUTH — Non-renewal notices to teachers will be the main topic of discussion when the School Committee meets tonight, Feb. 11.The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Portsmouth High School auditorium.
Seventy-one notices of non-renewal are expected to be issued — an unavoidable reality in light of an uncertain school budget forecast, according to School Committee Chairman David Croston.
Under state law, the annual non-renewal notices must go out to teachers by March 1. Because it’s so early on in the budget process and there are so many unknowns, school districts typically issue many more non-renewals than are necessary. The great majority of the notices are usually recalled as the district gets closer to the new fiscal year beginning July 1, when officials have a better handle on budget figures.
Still, school leaders have some difficult decisions to make this year which could lead to a fair number of positions eliminated, according to Mr. Croston. The schools’ five-year budget forecast, which will also be discussed tonight, is dictating that officials look for operational savings, he said.
“We’re projecting we have to have $700,000 in savings in fiscal year 2015, and that equates to roughly about 12 positions,” he said. “We don’t know which direction we’re firm on (when it comes to) those 12 positions, so we had to go very broad. We’re not happy with it. If we don’t know specifically what programming is to change … the 71 provides us with the breadth to whittle that down to the 12 that we need.”
As was the case this year, the schools are projecting to take in less revenue for next fiscal year, “even if we get from the town what we’re requesting. It’s principally because of all the state aid cuts,” said Mr. Croston. “We actually backfilled our operations this year with a surplus of a half-million dollars and plan to do the same next year.”
Art, music cuts?
Judging by recent postings on social media and e-mails exchanged between teachers and parents, many in town believe the district will be making significant cuts in art and music programs. Mr. Croston said while much of that speculation is being fueled by the required non-renewal notices, there has been talk of potential cuts to the arts.
“There have been proposals from within the administration that I can only say that personally, I would not be in favor of, especially in the elementary grades,” he said.
At a previous School Committee meeting, several members said they staunchly opposed cutting teaching positions or academic programs for students.
Tonight’s meeting will be in the high school auditorium, Mr. Croston said, in case teachers wanted to come out and comment on the budget or the non-renewal notices.
“We wanted to give them every chance to speak,” he said, adding that school officials hope to work with teachers on the budget challenges going forward.
“I look forward to working with the NEA Portsmouth … and how we right-size our budget over a three-year period,” he said. “I’m hopeful in the meantime that we find more revenue.”