The Concord Monitor reported on a pattern that’s happening in many districts across New Hampshire–rising costs for education, despite declining enrollments.
Part of it, said SAU Superintendent Mark McLean, is because of the formula the state uses to distribute funding:
“The state’s process for funding public education puts school systems and property owners in adversarial roles,” Mark MacLean, the superintendent for SAU 46, wrote in a November letter. “The lack of control property owners feel with increasing tax bills at times compels folks to look scornfully at their local education system. As a result, the public perception of the value of education is eroding.”
Total enrollment in Merrimack Valley – the second-largest school district in the area – has fallen a little more than 10 percent over a 10-year period, declining from 2,873 students in 2006 to 2,575 in 2015. Meanwhile, over the same period, spending has gone up about 25 percent, from $29.3 million to $36.5 million.
Downshifting of costs by the state, including reduced contributions to retirement benefits, and special education costs are some of the drivers:
There are other examples of so-called downshifting. Next year, Merrimack Valley will have to make up for $117,000 in cuts to stabilization funding, a grant program put in place for mostly property-poor, low-income districts that would have seen dramatic reductions in funding with the last overhaul of the state’s education formula. The $150 million program will zero out in 25 years, as a result of 4 percent annual cuts.
School administrators across the state also often point to growing special education needs. And in Merrimack Valley, the costs have skyrocketed. Minus state and federal reimbursements, the district spent $5.2 million on special education during the 2006-07 school year. Ten years later, it spent $10.3 million.
MacLean said that, aside from a growing complexity and severity of needs, the biggest cost driver is paying for specialists, especially when a district can’t retain someone in-house.