In Manchester, city revenues are down. And as a result, the Mayor and aldermen are grappling with a tighter financial situation.
The Mayor's proposed budget has prompted an emotional public reaction and the specter of layoffs. The city's schools may take a particularly hard hit.
NHPR correspondent Ellen Grimm went to one city middle school to find out what a tighter school budget might mean. She files this report.
Outside Hillside Middle School, band members are warming up their instruments on a chilly morning.
They're practicing for a march on Memorial Day.
Band leader Edward Doyle says his students really seem to enjoy playing music together.
DOYLE: They won't say it, but they love the discipline and the experience of making music and being part of a group that has a lot of pride and performs regularly.
More Bands sounds (Doyle striking up the band.)
For now, it seems, the Hillside band program is not on the chopping block under the proposed cuts.
But Principal Stephen Donahue says other reductions could eventually affect it.
DONAHUE: Consequently, the only students we'd have here with a music background after that happened are those whose parents could afford private lessons, and band would be something for the "haves" and not something that's really accessible to all students.
It's been a tumultuous month since Mayor Frank Guinta announced his $276 million budget proposal.
In his efforts to keep taxes low, a few city departments get minimal increases, others get decreases.
The school district is one of the latter.
Under the Mayor’s plan, schools would receive 140 million dollars, about 7 million less than this year.
At Hillside, eighth grade math teacher Deborah McCullough worries about the fate of a new computer program that helps teachers keep track of standardized test scores.
Manchester is a district in need of improvement.
MCCULLOUGH: This is may be the second year almost everybody's being trained on it, and I'm really worried that with budget cuts it's all going to go by the wayside.
Early in this debate there’d been talk of laying teachers off, but that appears to have been resolved.
The school board, including the Chair, Mayor Guinta, voted not to hand out pink slips..
Still Acting Superintendent Henry Aliberti has released a list of proposed cuts to meet the mayor's 140 million dollar school budget proposal.
And School Board member Stephen Dolman says he’s not happy about what it will do to the school system.
DOLMAN: …. it's going to decimate it. I mean the supplies, maintenance, they're talking about athletices. I mean I don't know. We'll have to sit down once we have a final number and decide what we're going to have to elminate, cut back on, to reach that number.
Hillside’s Principal Stephen Donohue says the climate of uncertainty in recent weeks has already caused some damage.
DONAHUE: We have one teacher in the building who has gone out in anticipation, as a new teacher, looking for another position and just the other day announced that he was accepting that because he doesn't know what's going to happen here.
Even though teachers may be resting easy for now, about eight assistant principals have received layoff notices.
And transfers are possible for other administrative staff.
CHILDREN HALLWAY SOUNDS
Hillside has nearly 900 students and it's assistant principal Ellen Allaire’s job to handle discipline.
She’s facing a possible transfer, leaving only one assistant principal at the school.
Allaire says her job begins about 6:45 every morning with e-mails and phone messages from parents.
And sometimes they show up in person.
ALLAIREcut1: Anything from why does my son have detention to he's not bringing home books or this issue is happenign on the bus, can you help, can you investigate, can you find out what's going on on the bus or in his classes, or at lunchtime. We could have some bullying situations.
Then the students arrive.
ALLAIREcut2: Then we'll come in and have about ten minute span where the students are at their lockers and we monitor the halls, try to hit the three floors between the three of us.
Principal Donahue says Allaire's departure could endanger a new school program that’s encouraged good behavior.
DONAHUE: The hallways are better, the cafeteria's better, a variety of things, areas. We want to continue that kind of thing. However with only two administrators, the question of how dedicated can our time be to continuing that initiative.
FADE OUT Kids SFX
Douglas Kruse chairs the school board's finance committee.
He says he didn’t support the budget the school board proposed.
He says at 153 million dollars, it was too big.
KRUSE: ….. I certainly am looking for us to do everything we can to make sure that we keep the classrooms as our priorities in terms of funding and that we do everything we can to provide what we need. But by the same token I'm also a taxpayer in this city and tax bills have gone up and up as have fuel prices and grocery prices. …..there are an awful lot of sacrifices to be made in every corner of this city as families struggle with some difficult economic times.
In the future, Kruse says the district needs a strategic plan to contain costs.
Over the past five years, he says the school district budget has gone up 21 and a half percent.
At the same time, student population has declined.
KRUSE: ….. Obviously, we need to make sure we're putting the resources where they're going to have the most benefit, and I think that's a discussion our board is going to have once we get the number from the aldermen. That'll be our job.
For now, the district must wait for the aldermen to come forward with what may be a compromise appropriation.
Mayor Guinta meanwhile has said he's committed to keeping the city’s costs down.
For NHPR News in Manchester, I'm Ellen Grimm.