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N.H. School Superintendents Warn Lawmakers About Staff And Budget Shortfalls

Empty classroom

Superintendents across New Hampshire are warning of budget shortfalls and staff shortages as they navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to members of the House and Senate Education committees on Wednesday, district leaders praised schools for figuring out how to reopen safely and provide services to families, but they said community frustration with schools is high, and staff shortages could force schools to go remote all over again.

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Substitute teacher shortages have plagued New Hampshire for years, but with COVID-19 safety protocols requiring any student or teacher with any symptom of the coronavirus to remain home, substitutes are in even greater demand.

White Mountains Regional School District Superintendent Marion Anastasia said school leaders were scrambling every day to find enough substitute teachers.

"This shortage could literally shut us down if we don't have teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, bus drivers and cooks for students and custodians to keep our schools safe and clean," she warned.

New Hampshire schools have received over $34 million in federal coronavirus relief aid, but district leaders say many schools will need more than their allotted amounts to pay for proper HVAC systems and air filters, PPE, cleaning supplies, and technology, some of which are still on back order.

“I haven’t figured out how this will play out in the [2022] budget yet, but if the costs are similar to this year, we simply do not have the money, nor do our communities,” continued Anastasia.

Some schools are aiming to transition from hybrid to fully in-person models later this fall, if their facilities can accommodate social distancing measures and meet other safety protocols.

But rising COVID-19 case numbers in some areas of the state and the onset of cold and flu season are causing other districts to reconsider full reopening plans.

Andover and Merrimack Valley Superintendent Mark MacLean urged lawmakers to find relief for families whose kids are in hybrid or remote models.

“We are hearing on a daily basis that hybrid and remote models are not matching with the needs are families have to be gainfully employed, and we’re caught in the middle,” he said.

MacLean and others also noted the state’s current quarantine rules – which require people who have travelled outside of New England to quarantine upon return – are forcing many to decide between seeing family members for the holidays and quarantining from school for weeks.

“We have folks telling us that they haven't seen their parents since last March,” he said, “And there's a sentiment that people want to connect with family, especially with the upcoming holiday season.”

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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