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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Finance Committee endorses reopening Brentwood School with Nashua district staff

NASHUA – Some of the city’s intensive needs students are likely to be taught at a small alternative school in Merrimack by the district’s own teachers this fall.

Members of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee voted to hire new staff and take over most of the closed the Brentwood School. ...

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NASHUA – Some of the city’s intensive needs students are likely to be taught at a small alternative school in Merrimack by the district’s own teachers this fall.

Members of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee voted to hire new staff and take over most of the closed the Brentwood School.

The Brentwood School, an alternative high school for students with intensive needs, closed suddenly at the end of this last school year.

“We currently had 8 to 10 students at any given time at (Brentwood)” said Conrad. “When they closed so late in the year, the question was, ‘what do we do now?’”

The committee voted to post open positions for staffing a Nashua-run program at Brentwood, although the budget and program details have yet to be worked out.

Conrad said Nashua could create an interim in-district program at Brentwood to meet students’ needs. The board will be reviewing more long-term solutions for serving its students beyond this school year.

“One of the things we should look at is more options for our students who have difficulty succeeding in a large high school,” said Conrad.

The number of students attending Brentwood would need to be large enough to make the proposal economically viable, Conrad said. So far, Nashua’s special education administration said they have 12 students ready to enroll, and are looking to have as many as 16.

The district hopes to fill at least three full-time positions for Brentwood: a school coordinator, student support counselor and a guidance counselor position.

If the district does not use Brentwood, the average out-of-district cost is $50,000. The Massachusetts alternatives being looked at come with significant transportation costs since locations are fairly far, such as Haverhill, according to Conrad.

Brentwood had been charging $33,700 per student when real costs were closer to $40,000, which was what ultimately sank the program.

Conrad said if Nashua can run the program at or near Brentwood’s true cost of $40,000, then it makes sense to take over the program.

“We’re trying to take control of our own program… and if we can do it at the same costs, all the better,” he said.

One sticking point between members was Brentwood’s rent; $130,000 for the year

“I really struggle with putting more stress on our budget…and I think $130,000 is too much,” said board member Sandra Ziehm.

The Brentwood building is located on the Merrimack High School campus. The building owners had said they’d include the furniture, school materials left on site and books as well.

Conrad said staying in the same location could offer students some stability during the changeover. But for the following year, Conrad said they’d be looking at another location in Nashua.

“So there’s some start up costs you don’t see here…for a year from now,” he said.

The program budget is still being developed, but running Brentwood would cost about $515,000. About $400,000 of that amount is already appropriated for the previous program.

Committee member Kimberly Smith Muise asked if Nashua could host a small school within one of Nashua’s schools instead.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of creating that, if we had something in mind to meet student needs,” Conrad said.

Muise said, “As the budget gets tighter and tighter, it’s a discussion we need to have.”

Committee members also approved the district’s 2015 contract with Clearway High School, a small alternative high school run through the Adult Learning Center in Nashua. The contract covers 15 special education students at $290,547, and another for 50 students working toward their GED for $292,171.

Conrad said Clearway enrolls 95 percent Nashua residents.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).