Testimony of State Rep. Marjorie Porter Hillsborough 1, 1/23/12

posted Jan 26, 2012, 3:47 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Jan 27, 2012, 7:58 AM ]

Testimony on HB 1607 

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  For the record, my name is Marjorie Porter, and I represent Hillsborough District 1, which includes the towns of Antrim, Hancock, Hillsborough, and Windsor.

In addition to my responsibilities here in Concord, I also serve on the school boards for the Hillsboro-Deering School District, and SAU 34.  It is as a school board member that I stand in opposition to HB 1607.

Allow me to give you some background information.  Hillsboro-Deering currently enrolls 1,320 students.  521 of them, or 39.4%, are eligible for free and reduced lunches.  I suspect the number is actually higher than that, but people are proud in our town.  Many will not ask for help, even if they need it.  

216 of our students, or 16.4%, are identified as having special needs.  We currently have 42 homeless students.

As you can see, we have a challenging population to educate.

Hillsboro-Deering is an SB 2 school district.  Our school boards, past and present, have been frugal, but the rising costs of health insurance and fuel oil, among others, have hit us hard these past few years.  The additional cost to the district as a result of the state’s decrease in contributions to the state retirement system for our employees has also left us scrambling.  The increases in these expenses over which we have no control have been between $400,000 and $600,000/year in the years I’ve served on the board. 

The district has been functioning with a default budget, or a budget set at default level funding, for most of the past 10 years, making it most difficult for us to meet the needs of all our students.  Even so, due to DRA magic, the school’s portion of the property tax soared this year.  As a result, the budget we are bringing forward this year is below level funding, and will result in loss of staff and programs.

Now, let’s say 26 of our students, 2 each from grades K-12, apply for and receive scholarships under the provisions of HB 1607, resulting in a loss of more than $90,000 in state funding to our district.

Our expenses would not go down.  We would still need the same number of teachers per grade level, and the same number of administrators, so our employee costs would not decrease.  We would still need to maintain our aging buildings, and heat them.  Those expenses would not decrease.  The costs for transportation and supplies would not decrease.  The only thing that would decrease is the help we get from the state.  We would be forced to go to the local property tax payer to recoup these funds.  So for sure local property taxes would increase.  Or we would be forced to reduce the quality of the education we provide, by cutting more programs or staff.

Unlike public schools, private schools are not compelled by law to accept students identified with special needs.  I doubt many would be eager to enroll our special needs students who have behavioral challenges, or who need one-on-one help with toileting or medications.  So it is highly unlikely that many of these 26 students who apply for and receive scholarships under HB 1607 would be special needs students.  Most likely, most of our special needs students would be staying with us, and we would continue to absorb the ever increasing costs of educating them.

It has been said this program would give “poor kids choice too.”  Again I have my doubts.  My partner and I own and operate a private preschool/kindergarten in town.  We are former public school teachers with advanced degrees.  We offer an excellent program.  We run the program out of my home to keep expenses down.  It costs our clients $2660/year to send their four-year old to our three-morning a week preschool program.  The $2500/year scholarship offered under this bill would not cover our tuition charges for this program. 

For folks in Hillsboro, the closest private schools are in Concord, Manchester, Keene, or Dublin—at least a 25 mile drive.  Tuition costs vary for these schools, but for information purposes, Bishop Brady High School in Concord charges a tuition of $9350/year; the Derryfield School $26,435, the Dublin School $26,650.

I doubt that many, if any, of our free-and-reduced lunch-eligible families, or any of our homeless families, would be able to afford the additional $6000-22,000/year to send their child to private school, and transport them there.  These students would most likely be staying with us, and we would continue to absorb the ever increasing costs of educating them.

The bottom line is that our school district would lose some of our motivated, easier to educate students, we would be left with a higher percentage of challenging students to teach, and we would have fewer funds with which to do the job.

I urge the committee to think long and hard about the potential impact this bill will have on Hillsboro-Deering and other districts like it all over the state of New Hampshire.  Less state money means increased property taxes, or decreased quality of our public schools.  We can’t afford either.

Thank you.