Colossal waste of money

Each year we encounter a “horror story” in the school department, always needing more funding.

A dozen years ago it was “previously undiagnosed autism” that caused rapid expansion to the current enrollment of 2,054 SPED students, or 18 percent of the Nashua public school enrollment of 11,162 students. This requires a staff of 108 SPED teachers, including 15 for pre-school, plus 15 psychologists. Can you believe one out of five of our students now needs special education? At the current rate, an average of 50 special education students are added every year, so that within 14 years, 25 percent of our students will be rated SPED (source: BoE Budget Notebook).

Guidance counselors guide students with achieving their scholastic objectives and intervene to resolve conflict and prevent dropouts. In these days of powerful search engines on the internet, students have enormous resources, and the need for scholastic guidance is much diminished. Nevertheless, Nashua employs 44.5 guidance counselors, exceeding the state “minimum standards” of 30 guidance counselors by 50 percent.

A few years ago it was “full-time kindergarten,” to fill otherwise declining student enrollment and empty classrooms. Now, 39 teachers are employed to teach 778 kindergarten children. Never mind that pre-first-grade children need abundant unstructured play, not sitting in a classroom all day.

ELL teachers are needed to teach and monitor 1,346 legal and illegal immigrant students who speak little or no English. The Nashua School District currently employs 23.5 ELL teachers, and another four are reserved in the mayor’s proposed FY2020 contingency budget. ELL teachers exclusively teach ELL students; they teach no other students. Here is the kicker: ELL teachers need not have knowledge of the language in which the foreign student speaks; a recipe for chaos in the classroom.

I recall how, as an immigrant, I entered Miami Beach High School speaking Dutch fluently, Spanish poorly and English worse. I was placed in regular classes. (This predated the IDEA law, originally enacted in 1975, on which all the SPED regulations are based). A kid from Columbia who spoke no English was seated behind me in my homeroom class, so I could translate between my bad English and my poor Spanish. Within six months, we both spoke and read acceptable English. Within nine months, having read several books cover-to-cover, I spoke, read and wrote fluent English.

Immigrant students, being exposed to other kids who speak exclusively English, watch English spoken on TV and in movies and read English books and magazines need no ELL teacher to learn to speak, read and write English. I cannot imagine an ELL teacher, sometimes not even understanding the student’s native tongue, being more effective than friends at play.

Teaching ELL students is not a New Hampshire state requirement; it is forced on the local school districts through Federal Title III funding.

ELL teachers are covered under the teachers contract and each teacher in the 2019-2020 school year costs, on average, $66,000 in wages and $30,000 in benefits for a total of $96,000 per year (source: teachers contract 2017-2021). Including the four contingency positions, 27.5 ELL teachers cost $2.65 million. Subtract Title III funding of $200,000, and the Nashua taxpayers underwrite ELL teaching with $2.45 million. A colossal waste of money.

Fred Teeboom is a two-term former alderman-at-large, served as a substitute teacher in the Nashua School District, was hired as a math teacher by the Greenville, New Hampshire, School District, taught engineering communications at Nashua Community College and worked more than 40 years as an engineer, consultant and manager for various engineering companies. He can be reached at fredtee@comcast.net.