Dotty Mattson held a clipboard as she looked out over the standing-room-only crowd in the meeting room at the Derry Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1617. Despite a seasonably warm Sunday afternoon, the room was filled with people awaiting the annual Loyalty Day ceremony, in which the post honors those who support freedom’s cause. Mattson rattled off a list of dignitaries and then said with a smile, “If I missed anyone, you were late.”
We’ve been reporting for months on the potential – and now the definite – closure of Sandown Central School and its pending consolidation with that town’s other elementary school, Sandown North.
While it’s a topic that has been raised in years past within the Timberlane Regional School District, it came to the forefront almost as an afterthought this year. Now a committee is addressing consolidation issues, and when school opens for the new academic year, all Sandown elementary students should be at North.
As school enrollment continues downward, Sandown will be far from the last place consolidation is considered. The Derry Cooperative School District has convened a School Facilities Committee to look at the impact of declining enrollment, effective use of its school buildings and what options are available, including whether to redistrict and close one of its five elementary schools. The district is to be commended for taking this approach, so that it does not hit the patrons without warning if a school closure is the logical outcome.
Londonderry would do well to consider its options as well. With three elementary schools – not counting Moose Hill, which serves Kindergarten only – a continuing decline in enrollment could well bring into question whether a different use of the buildings is required.
And Hampstead, where a warrant article to construct additional classrooms at Hampstead Central School, the town’s only public elementary school, has gone down to resounding defeat the past two years – and although the school board said it will seek the money yet again this coming March – reconfiguration of the current classrooms to keep students out of portables should be carefully examined as an alternative as student population continues to decline.
We know any decision in any school district to close or consolidate will be unpopular but school boards must face the fact that with declining enrollment and not a lot of young families moving in, the schools built to address the influx of residents when Interstate 93 opened are harder to fill. And there’s no guarantee that the expansion of I-93 will mean a population boost. The commuter lifestyle may well no longer be the lifestyle of choice for today’s families.
Something has to give. Concord continues to downshift more and more costs to local towns each legislative session, even while legislators pat themselves on the back for “no new taxes.” The casino bill was a chance to bring in revenue; with its defeat, that revenue will go to other states instead.
Local school budgets make up most of our tax rate. So let’s plan ahead. As taxes show no sign of declining and enrollments show no sign of increasing, it’s time to consider the schools themselves.