Changing Demographics and Zoning, School Closing Costs Aired

While “close a school” has been the battle cry of those worried about soaring taxes, and while the School Board has it on a list of options, it may not save as much money as people hoped.

Derry Cooperative School District Business Administrator Jane Simard gave a presentation at the May 28 Facilities Committee meeting on the district’s facilities and their uses. The presentation was co-written with Facilities Director Gary Webster. On the final page Simard gave an estimate of what it costs to run an elementary school, and the estimated savings if one closed.

The average Derry elementary school costs $4,590,130 to run, according to Simard’s research. Based on the 2015-16 budget, the cost savings for closing one of the district’s five elementary schools would be $1,035,975.

Simard explained the costs that would and wouldn’t travel with children to their new school. “Obviously, we wouldn’t have to bring administrators,” she said, because the new school would have its own administrative team. This would save approximately $380,500, she said.

Other savings would be nurse salary and benefits, $91,900; Guidance salary and benefits, $112,900; Speech/Language salary and benefits, $102,500; Library aide salary and benefits, $22,350; Computer Assistant salary and benefits, $26,300; stipends for extracurricular coaching and activities, $5,600; staff development, $2,000; printing, $2,500; dues and fees, $2,000; and furniture, $2,200.

Some budget lines would go down slightly, such as equipment rentals and repairs, from $40,700 to $30,700; custodial salary and benefits, from $174,900 to $166,155; and utilities, from $145,200 to $87,120. Simard said and group Facilitator John Moody concurred that while a building would be closed, its need for maintenance and repairs would continue until it was sold to another entity.

Moody, who was a previous Derry superintendent of schools, said of the closed Floyd School, “It sat there for years at a cost to us.”

Other savings aren’t as cut-and-dried, Simard said. For example, the savings on teacher salaries and benefits would vary. “If you close a school, you may be putting 400 kids in another school,” she pointed out. “That might require an extra class at the ‘new’ school.”

Supplies and books/periodicals would be added into the budget of the school the children move to, she said, so it isn’t really a savings. And “contracted services” for children with special needs would follow the child to the new school, again not a savings.

And for the closed building, Simard estimated that 80 percent of the maintenance cost would still be needed.

Derry Planning Director George Sioras gave a presentation on demographics and population growth. According to Sioras, Derry’s growth, and the impact on school systems, has peaked and will most likely not peak again.

One reason, Sioras said, is the new zoning. The older homes and lots in West Derry have one-acre zoning, neighborhoods fanning out from there have two-acre zoning, and in the far reaches of town, specifically East Derry, the rule is three acres for each single-family home.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, Derry had one-acre zoning everywhere,” he said.

The new zoning has shut down the development of large housing tracts, he said. “We will never again see the growth we did in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” he said.

There are still a couple of larger parcels in town that are not under conservation easements and could be developed, but even if they were, the 3-acre zoning would keep Derry from a population spike.

Sioras also referenced the recent changes to the multifamily housing ordinance, crafted by the Planning Board to reduce density. “We will never yield the density we saw before unless a future Town Council changes the ordinance,” he said.

Sioras said the demographics point to an aging population, and that will not increase the school population.

At the June 8 meeting Maryann Connors-Krikorian, assistant superintendent, will give a presentation on “A Day in the Life of a School.”

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the West Running Brook Middle School library.