By Thomas P. Caldwell
FRANKLIN — With seven new resignations from the teaching staff in the Franklin School District, Superintendent William Compton reminded the school board on May 19 that the total number of non-returning teachers now stands at 12 if those who simply are not renewing their contracts are included in the count.
"I want to express my concern with that number of teachers leaving," Dr. Compton said. "I'm looking at the effect in terms of sustainability. Last year, 15 resigned and there may be one or two more who may be resigning this year."
He noted that this year's entire math department was new and he said he has a "deep concern" for the impact on the principals and the staff who are trying to maintain the quality of education amidst such a turnover.
Compton said Franklin has a lot of young, enthusiastic teachers and the school district does a superb job of training them; but after a few years, they go elsewhere, largely due to economics. Other school districts value those from Franklin, attracted by the volume and quality of the training programs the Franklin School District provides through its School Improvement Grant, he said. Franklin High School Principal Richard Towne concurred, saying he hears the same thing from administrators at other schools.
Curriculum Coordinator Traci Bricchi cited the case of a former Franklin guidance counselor who now works elsewhere but would like to finish her career in Franklin. However, she would have to take a $21,000 pay cut to do so.
School Board member Tim Dow asked whether Franklin could incorporate language in the contract that teachers would have to remain with the district for a specified period of time after receiving the training, but Compton pointed out that would require agreement from the teachers' union, which would be unlikely.
"What do we have to bargain with, since we have the lowest pay scale in the area?" asked board member Al Warner.
Compton compared Franklin's history of cutting expenditures in order to conform to the property tax cap to that of a community in Massachusetts that spiraled downward and ended up in receivership. In contrast, another community built an $88 million complex and now "everybody wants to buy a house there, and it's a boom town," he said.
"Money is not the answer," he conceded, "but schools are. Nothing is more important than getting out the message that we support our schools. Then the money will follow."
During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, former school board member Bill Grimm said Franklin has an opportunity to make significant improvement in the school district by adopting an assessment and improvement plan similar to the one Franklin Hospital is using. Grimm said the American Medical Association chose three hospitals in the United States, Franklin being one of them, for a quality improvement initiative that brings together physicians, trustees, and key staff members, along with community stakeholders, to work on setting quality improvement and medical safety goals. He showed examples of some of the assessment charts they had developed.
"Everybody has to be on board," Grimm said. "The morale among the teachers and employees is very important to its success as well. I'd be happy to help the school board look at this."
Increasing staff salaries will be a challenge next year because the school district is showing a $50,000 deficit, due to an $89,554 decrease in state adequacy grant funding from the state. The decrease is attributable to decreasing enrollment and Business Administrator Michael O'Neill said the number of Hill students attending Franklin also has been steadily declining.
Exasperating the problem is the fact that Hill voters will be casting votes on whether to withdraw from its Authorized Regional Enrollment Agreement (AREA) with Franklin. Hill initiated a withdrawal study last November and, in April, the N.H. Department of Education accepted the report, allowing voters of the town to decide whether they want to sever their enrollment agreement. The Hill School District is considering sending its secondary school students to Newfound or Winnisquam.
Recognizing the school district's difficulties, the Franklin City Council authorized a 50-50 split in the additional local funding allowed under the tax cap. Normally, the school gets 30 percent and the city gets 70 percent of that amount. Nevertheless, the school district has not yet managed to balance its budget for 2014-2015 and, although it anticipates a fund balance at the end of this fiscal year, state law does not allow school districts to carry over those balances.
There was a great deal of discussion among the school board about what to do with that anticipated fund balance, with a number of deferred maintenance items in the schools. O'Neill planned to bring the list of issues to a meeting of the joint city-school finance committee to apprise them of the challenges.
Several school board members were hoping to return at least a portion of the fund balance to the city with the understanding that the city council would transfer those funds back to school to meet its deficit next year. O'Neill, however, pointed out that the city is obligated to apply any money returned to rebuild its state surplus which is required as a set-aside against property tax abatements, exemptions, and other obligations.