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Dresden district absorbs Hanover sixth graders to ease budget uncertainty

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2021 9:38:39 PM
Modified: 7/22/2021 9:38:48 PM

HANOVER — After years of effort, school officials in Hanover have changed how they account for the town’s sixth graders.

Both the Hanover and Dresden school boards on Wednesday night ratified an agreement that voters in the two districts approved at Town Meeting in March that will turn Hanover’s sixth graders into Dresden students.

For decades, the Hanover School District has paid tuition to the Dresden School District to send the town’s sixth graders to Richmond Middle School, which is part of the Dresden system.

That arrangement made both districts susceptible to the volatility of large swings in enrollment. If the number of Hanover sixth graders rose substantially, the district’s tuition bill would rise and inflate the district’s budget. If the number fell substantially the following year, the Dresden School District would experience a significant decline in revenue.

Though it might sound like a problem of which jacket pocket to pay the bill from, school officials contended that the tuition arrangement made it hard for both districts to budget accurately and to make financial plans.

“They’ve looked at that multiple times over the past 20 years,” Jamie Teague, finance director for SAU 70, said Wednesday.

New Hampshire schools have to build budgets nine months before the school year starts, Teague said, and a big change in tuition enrollment at the start of the school year can cause havoc.

“It creates these ebbs and flows, so that any given year, either the Dresden or Hanover district experiences difficulties,” Teague said.

This is true for other districts that rely on tuition agreements. Earlier this year, school officials in Hartland, Weathersfield and Sharon, which pay tuition for high school (and middle school, in Sharon’s case), had to address big tuition increases.

In Sharon and Weathersfield, officials pruned elementary school programs to cover the secondary school tuition bills, which are non-negotiable.

The tuition rate that Hanover pays Dresden has more than doubled since 2002-03, from $10,096 per student to $22,243 per student for the coming school year. But the volatility in tuition bills was the main concern of school officials.

For example, in the largest swing in tuition cost, Hanover saw its tuition bill rise by $935,000 from the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year. In the former year, Hanover had budgeted for 61 sixth graders, but 76 enrolled that fall. Since that cost trailed the budget, it was applied to the following year, so in budgeting, Hanover added $312,000 to its tuition bill for 2020-21.

That year, 91 Hanover sixth graders enrolled at Richmond Middle School, 50% more than Hanover had budgeted for the previous year.

The new arrangement that Hanover and Dresden voters approved in March made Hanover’s sixth graders a part of the Dresden district and also would allow Norwich to do the same with its sixth grade. Norwich school officials have chosen to keep the town’s sixth graders at Marion Cross School, Norwich’s K-6 school.

Under the new arrangement, Dresden will just budget for Hanover sixth graders as they would with any other student at Richmond Middle School and Hanover High School, the two schools in the interstate district, which oversees secondary schooling for Hanover and Norwich.

A report produced by the Sixth Grade Tuition Working Group, which studied the issue, shows that in six of the past nine years, the annual increase in cost would have been lower under the new structure, a sign that volatility will be lower.

Aside from financing, little changes in Hanover and Dresden’s arrangement when it takes effect in the 2022-23 school year. Hanover sixth graders will go to Richmond Middle School, as they long have done.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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