Amherst School District Ways and Means Committee released a report comparing Hollis-Brookline and Amherst School districts. The report can be found here:
There are some key take-aways that Amherst voters should be made aware of.
SAU39 comprises the Amherst School District, which covers Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade in Amherst; the Mont Vernon Village School District, which covers Pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade in Mont Vernon (they tuition their students into Amherst’s 7th and 8th grades); and the Souhegan Cooperative School District for 9th-12th grade for Amherst and Mont Vernon students.
SAU41 comprises the Hollis School District, which covers Kindergarten through 6th grade for Hollis students; the Brookline School District, which covers Kindergarten through 6th grade for Brookline students; and the Hollis-Brookline Cooperative (COOP) School District covering 7th through 12th grade for Hollis and Brookline students. Both SAUs manage multiple schools to fulfill their charter.
What became apparent to the ASD Ways and Means Committee at they performed their educational value analysis of ASD and various comparable communities is that, while SAU41 is a virtual twin of SAU39, they garner better educational outcomes for their students. They found is that SAU41 spends millions of dollars less per year than Amherst, they serve more students than Amherst does and they achieve better academic outcomes than Amherst. The report highlights some of the differences in spending patterns.
KEY DIFFERENCES IN OVERALL SAU SPENDING PATTERNS
The data in following two tables was collected from the SAU39.org and SAU41.org websites and are the total proposed budgets for both SAUs from FY2021 until FY2024. Neither table reflects additional warrant articles.
A CLOSER LOOK AT “BRICK SCHOOL” SPENDING
At SAU39, the superintendent and the personnel reporting to them are housed at the Brick School. ASD Ways and Means compared Amherst SAU Administration spending at this level with that of H-B. The following graphic shows the adopted SAU “Brick School” administration budget by fiscal year (July 1 through June 30).
KEY DIFFERENCES IN TOP-LEVEL SAU ENROLLEMT LEVELS
SAU39 / SAU41 OBSERVATIONS
The data of the following table was collected from the SAU41 website and the NH DOE. The most recent six prior school fiscal years (July 1 through June 30), the actual SAU Administration budget, difference from the prior year, and student enrollments by school district as well as total student enrollment served by SAU41. The most recent year (FY2023) is the current year, and the proposed budget is used.
Likewise, the following table illustrates, for the six prior school fiscal years (July 1 through June 30), the actual budget, difference from the prior year, and student enrollments by school district as well as total student enrollment served by SAU39. The most recent year (FY2023) is the current year, and the proposed budget is used.
Hollis-Brookline (SAU41) serves 120 more enrolled students (with the same number of buildings as SAU39) yet proposes budgets averaging $3.8 million less per year. Their students also achieve better academic outcomes.
Hollis-Brookline’s SAU administration (centralized services) requests $800,000 less per year than the Amherst “Brick School” administration.
This consistent expense difference has cost the SAU39 taxpayers nearly $5 Million over the last six years.
SAU39 budgets do not appear to be related to the number of students served so much as to initiatives proposed by the SAU39 administration.
SAU39 “Brick School” administration budgets are not approved directly by voters; Hollis-Brookline voters get to vote on the SAU41 administrative budget. If that were the case for SAU39, either by our school boards deciding to permit it, or by voters proposing to do so through a petition warrant article, this spending might be more restrained.
The Amherst Ways and Means hope that Amherst and Mont Vernon voters will shortly be able to easily access educational and financial information from a fully functional and transparent SAU39 website as H-B residents can from their site.
The SAU leadership was surprised to learn of the large variance in spending between our SAU and that of Hollis-Brookline. Amherst Ways and Means strongly recommend that the SAU39 personnel further engage with their H-B counterparts to explore the whys and wherefores of these differences. Without a concerted effort to seek efficiencies, this cost to the Amherst taxpayers will only get worse. At a minimum, it would be good to know how H-B achieves better educational outcomes for noticeably lower ongoing investments by their taxpayers.