Kindergarten Boom Spurs Amendment for Paraprofessional in Grantham

Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Grantham — Residents at the annual Grantham School District Meeting Tuesday night voted to add $54,000 to the school budget to hire a general education paraprofessional to assist kindergarten classes.

The item was introduced as an amendment to the budget by Grantham resident Jennifer Ferland, who argued that the money was needed since the kindergarten class size could grow from 24 students to 42 students next year.

Grantham Village School Principal Heather Contagallo clarified that this number is based on birth records and the number of siblings of current students who will be kindergarten age in the fall. So far, only eight have officially signed up for kindergarten in the fall since enrollment opened last Friday. However, this early enrollment period is open until March 31, said Nora Tilton, administrative assistant to the principal.

The amendment indicated that the new hire would primarily help out the kindergarten classes, but could also lend a hand in other early grades which don’t currently have the help of a teacher’s assistant or paraprofessional.

It passed 75-31, despite opposition from the Grantham School Board.

During discussion on the amendment, a couple of residents said they were skeptical of voting in favor of the amendment, arguing it’s something that should have been brought up during the school budget hearings if it was necessary.

Superintendent Sydney Leggett said that no one was philosophically opposed to having a general paraprofessional in kindergarten. But, she said, school officials dismissed the idea early on in the budget process because, “we were taking care to avoid big increases,” so that the budget growth would be kept below 3 percent.

Those who spoke in favor of the amendment pointed out that students who need extra help in the early years could benefit from an additional teaching assistant in the room. They also argued that such early help could help reduce the need for costly interventions or out-of-district placements later.

Voters later passed the school budget as amended — which was $9.4 million plus the $54,000 added by amendment — in a 99-14 vote.

School Board Vice Chairman Nancy Parsons explained that the budget will result in a tax rate that will be $1.92 per $1,000 higher than the current school year, but only 55 cents higher than what was approved by voters last year. That's because Grantham got some unanticipated state revenue that lowered the projected tax rate; that will not recur.

As a result, school taxes on a $250,000 home in Grantham will increase by $480.

Similar to previous years, the biggest line items in the budget are for tuitioning Grantham students to Lebanon’s middle and high school: $2 million for high school students, up 0.8 percent, and $1.3 million for junior high school students, up about 9 percent.

One line item that is practically not showing any increase is costs for health and dental care, which is increasing less than half a percent to $773,000.

Voters also approved $50,000 for the Tuition Expendable Trust Fund. These funds will come from the June 30 fund balance and not from taxation.

Town Meeting will be at 5 pm. on Tuesday, March 13, at Grantham Town Hall, where voting by ballot will occur from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.