HAVERHILL — Elementary students will receive the same amount of art and music instruction as last year, now that schools have hired four teachers for those subjects, Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan said.

The committee approved the hires at a special meeting this week so the positions could be filled in time for the start of school Tuesday.

"This allows us to provide the same amount of art and music to kids as last year, with the exception of the instrumental program, which we had to eliminate," Buchanan said.

Eight teaching positions in art and music were eliminated from the School Department budget in the spring.

The committee also approved hiring two more teachers at the high school. The superintendent said those hires are necessary to prevent the elimination of any more courses at the school.

Buchanan said he expects the new school year to be challenging.

"I'm very concerned with how we're going to find enough teachers for our English learner and special education classes, which have strict rules about student-to-teacher ratios," he said yesterday. "I'm confident we'll figure it out, but we're expecting to have some problems in that area."

At last Tuesday's School Committee meeting, Buchanan presented the committee with a plan showing that the new teachers' salaries will be paid for without using any money from the school budget. The $45,000-a-year positions are to be funded with grant money and cash that recently became available due to two late retirements, according to the superintendent's plan. The committee approved the request for the six teachers unanimously.

The need for more teachers just before the start of school is an annual occurrence, but how school officials dealt with it this year is new.

Several months ago it was revealed that the number of teachers in Haverhill schools had grown last year by four, despite votes by the committee months earlier to eliminate 36 teaching positions as the result of a budget shortfall in excess of $4 million. At the time, School Committee members said they were surprised and confused that the teacher ranks had grown despite their votes.

"The community, and certainly the School Committee, has believed teachers are going down every year because we've been cutting them," School Committee President Scott Wood said in a May 2009 interview. "It's a big problem that the committee believes there are 36 fewer teachers this year and there are actually four more than last year," he said.

At the time, Buchanan said the jobs were restored with grants and by moving money around within the budget.

In the aftermath, the committee made it clear all new hires are to go through them, which is what the law requires.

Buchanan first asked for the new hires last week, but the committee rejected the request then because it did not include information about how the positions were to be paid for. The superintendent provided that information Tuesday.

"There is no impact to the current budget, so I supported the hires," Wood said yesterday, adding that the committee voted 5-0 in favor of the positions. "When the superintendent says we need more teachers and there's money, I suspect he'll get the votes he needs. But the committee has made it clear it will not support any new hires unless the members are shown a plan for how the positions are to be paid for."

Earlier this month, the committee voted to hire four more technology teachers. School officials said the $180,000 to fund those positions will come from federal stimulus money.

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