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September 09. 2013 10:09PM

Manchester school year begins with elementary school crowding

MANCHESTER — Preliminary enrollment figures for the first week of school indicate a couple dozen elementary school classrooms are overcrowded by state standards, while overall enrollment in the district dropped significantly from last year.

Superintendent Debra Livingston presented the numbers to the Board of School Committee Monday, and they prompted a debate on how much leeway to give the new school chief to address the perennial problem of class sizes in the opening days of the school year.

Several board members raised concerns about the approximately 23 elementary school classes that exceed state Department of Education standards, which set a maximum class size of 25 pupils in kindergarten through Grade 2, and 30 students in Grades 3 and above.

Ward 9 member Art Beaudry made a motion to have the superintendent hire more teachers to address the teacher shortage in the early grades.

"It's not fair to the students in these oversized classes. I would like to see this done sooner than later," he said.

Mayor Ted Gatsas responded that it was too early to be giving directives to the superintendent.

"It's four days into the school year, and we're already telling the superintendent how to do her job," he said.

Livingston stressed that the enrollment numbers are fluid and that she expected to present firmer figures next week. She said she and her staff are working on ways to bring down the numbers in the lower grades.

"We do not want our classes to have high enrollments. I appreciate your offer, but I assure you we have a plan," she said.

There are crowded classes in the middle schools and high schools as well, but the board was particularly concerned about the lower grades because of concerns over the impact on young learners.

Beaudry later withdrew his motion.

Livingston also said that overall enrollment appeared to be down 546 from last year, to 15,180.

"That's a pretty significant drop," Ward 3 board member Chris Stewart said. "Any idea where those students went?"

Livingston replied, "We have asked that question as well ... We haven't been able to data-mine (the numbers) yet."

Livingston said there were 44 incoming freshmen from Hooksett, five more than anticipated. Hooksett is in the process of seeking another high school or high schools for its students.

Beaudry also raised concerns about a new Sports Marketing class at Memorial High that lacked text books. Livingston said the books have been ordered.

Other board members praised Livingston for the job she has done in the opening days of her first school year as district chief.

"I just wanted to say nice job for everything you've done," Ward 5 board member Ted Rokas said. "There wasn't as many hiccups like last year."

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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