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Souhegan School Budget: Doing more with less

AMHERST – More efficient bus routes, more courses per teacher, more thrifty purchasing.

Those are among the possible cost reductions school officials will examine as they try to reduce Souhegan High School’s operating budget by 5 percent next year.

Five percent was the target the school board gave administrators after the March election when the two-town district’s $18.09 million budget was rejected by Amherst voters, but saved by Mont Vernon.

But the message was clear: A lot of voters were not happy with the school’s spending plan.

It’s “all on the table as long as it doesn’t affect what happens in the classroom,” Superintendent Adam Steel told the board said at its April 15 meeting.

Last month the board voted unanimously to direct Steel to look at the school’s advanced placement courses, with the goal of making AP offerings more efficient and economical, but not necessarily reducing their number.

Steel said he will lead that investigation. “Anyone who has been at Souhegan for awhile knows there is a lot of pride in the values, and I need to make sure I understand from the teachers directly.

“What are the core beliefs – they should not change,” he said.

Souhegan was founded 27 years ago as part of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a reform movement that emphasizes personalized, in-depth learning.

Enrollment is a cost factor and the high school’s numbers are expected to stay steady over the next few years, the superintendent said. Among the big cost drivers are health insurance rates, which fluctuate widely, and, for now, are assumed at a 10 percent increase or $182,000. A new contract with

teachers and support staff is assumed to mean a 10 percent increase, or $200,000.

Special education costs are a big unknown but were estimated at a 6 percent increase, or $183,000. The in-school programs cost money, Steel said, “but save a ridiculous amount of money.”

The school will continue to focus on competency-based education, he said, and the goal is to do more with less money.