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Here’s what school funding looks like in the Upper Valley

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Our schools have the same problem finding qualified staff that our business do.  The difference is that there’s a hard cap on what they can offer.  Here’s a great piece on the day-to-day impact of the school funding issue in rural New Hampshire, from the Valley News, which consistently provides great coverage on how statewide education issues impact their communities:

Keri Gelenian had put in a valiant effort to find someone for the job, a part-time, long-term substitute high school English teaching position. But eventually, the principal of Rivendell Academy in Orford had to admit defeat.

“A lot of things about that make it very challenging to fill,” Gelenian said. “I mean, we couldn’t find anybody.” So, finally, he bit the bullet and stepped up himself. He taught two ninth-grade English classes last year, on top of his regular workload, from mid-October to mid-December…..

School workforce shortages are neither new nor uncommon, though. In Rivendell Interstate School District alone, there’s a nurse who splits her time between the two elementary schools, special education staff who take whole days off just to catch up on paperwork and a long-term substitute in lieu of a middle school counselor. Filling job openings often come down to “dumb luck,” Gelenian said. Even the superintendent, Elaine Arbour, is part-time “only on paper,” she laughed, though she was not joking.

As small districts turn to cutting staff hours and positions as a way of saving money, schools are forced to “get creative” with their workforce, Arbour said, meaning that many job openings involve some combination of part-time, temporary or multi-site work. But as the opioid crisis and other social ills cause students to exhibit more acute and complex issues, Upper Valley school officials are facing the question of how to support these needs while keeping payroll costs within budget and while often struggling to find the necessary personnel…..

According to data from the United States Department of Education, all 50 states went into the 2017-2018 academic year facing teacher shortages….

But specific shortage areas vary from district to district, said Aaron Cinquemani, who is just finishing his first year as principal of Charlestown Middle School and North Charlestown Community School, after working in the Claremont and Lebanon school districts…..

And Charlestown’s property tax payers are very committed to their schools.  As a property poor community, they must tax themselves at an equalized rate of $25.11 per thousand to raise just $10,518 per student.  Claremont’s equalized tax rate is about the same, while Lebanon, where the equalized property value per pupil is almost 4 times that of Charlestown and Claremont, can raise $22,250 with an equalized tax rate of $14.35.

….the district “shares many employees, between many buildings, between many students,” including arts, P.E. and music teachers, occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists.

These shortages often boil down to budgetary concerns, said Schinella, in a phone call last week.

“Everything’s part-time. Nobody’s hiring full-time. Instead you have a .4 (FTE) here, a .6 there,” he said. “I can say that just from my own perspective, without even looking at what data we have on it. Everybody’s trying to save money.”

As a result, Gelenian said, would-be applicants may not be attracted to the positions that are available.

“I think the big answer is that teaching is a very difficult, demanding profession,” he said. “It’s undervalued and underpaid, and it’s hard to find quality people,” particularly when certain positions might require special training or certification….

Barb Griffin, a reading specialist who’s worked in the Rivendell district since its inception in 1998, splits her time between [two schools]…..

“Kids are coming to school needier. I think the traditional family is changing. Parents have a lot of pressures, whether financial or work or other things that are hard to balance,” with substance abuse often being a “big piece” of those challenges, she said.

Like Griffin, Cinquemani has noticed the ways in which social and family issues have affected students. Because of what he sees as a paucity of accessible support services and a widespread failure to properly discuss and address issues such as mental health, there are “more and more expectations on schools” to provide for students’ emotional, social and psychological needs that, in an ideal world, might also be supported by more pocket-heavy institutions, he said….

There’s a lot more great detail at: Area Schools Struggle to Fill Jobs With Qualified Staff

1 Comment

  1. wgersen says:

    This article also illustrates the difference between VT and NH when it comes to staffing schools. VT is currently consolidating district governance structures through Act 46 and has already effectively mandated that many positions be hired at the SU level as opposed to the DISTRICT level. When staff is hired at the SU level, as was the case in Rivendell, it is much easier to tweak the assignment of someone like the reading specialist described in this article. It is also far easier to for a superintendent to hire one FTE reading specialist at the SU level and deploy them as needed than it is to hire a .4 FTE for one district and a .6 FTE for another district, pay them based on two separate contracts with differing wages and benefits, and re-deploy them as needs change.

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