Carl Accardo and Bruce Kling, members of the School Administrative Unit (SAU) 10 Fiscal Advisory Committee, are looking for ways to increase revenue instead of making cuts. And they’re looking to one of the district’s biggest expense-generators to help make it happen.
Accardo and Kling met with Pinkerton Academy Headmaster Griffin Morse and Financial Administrator Glenn Neagle to discuss ways of dealing with the growing cost of secondary education. They brought their “homework” back to the SAU administration and board at the Dec. 7 budget meeting.
In a phone interview Accardo said Morse and Neagle were glad to meet with them, though they could only give them an hour. But the two Fiscal Advisers learned a lot in that hour.
There was no particular agenda, Accardo said. “It was meant to be an opportunity for two people to sit down with people at Pinkerton and help us to execute our job,” he said.
The “job” is crucial, with Derry SAU 10 facing a potential $2 million budget increase on top of a $700,000 decrease in state aid.
“They gave us answers,” Accardo said.
The meeting gave Accardo and Kling a better understanding of the 75-student “cap” on students paying private tuition from non-sending districts. The sending districts, which have a formal contract with Pinkerton, are Auburn, Chester, Derry, Hampstead and Hooksett. Students from other area towns may attend if accepted and willing to pay the $11,000 tuition.
“They tuition themselves in to Pinkerton,” Accardo said.
Accardo said he and Kling asked three questions:
• What is the optimum level for a student body population at Pinkerton? “Both men said 3,250 students,” Accardo said.
• Where is it that the economy of scale works against the sending towns and tuition? “Below 2,800 students, we would have issues,” Accardo said, with the high school having to charge the sending towns more in order to support its programming.
• What is the maximum number of students Pinkerton can accept without crowding affecting education? Accardo said Morse and Neagle told him 3,500.
• How many students does Pinkerton have now? 3,100, Accardo said.
According to Accardo, the school is not yet at its peak efficiency and could accommodate another 100 tuitioned-in students. That would bring a revenue of $1 million.
Currently 57 of the 75 slots for children beyond the sending districts are filled, Accardo said.
But there is interest, and when Accardo and Kling asked Morse if he could deliver another 100 students, Morse thought that he could.
“They need time to put together a marketing plan,” Accardo said. “It wouldn’t happen overnight.”
With another $1 million, the cost to the sending towns would go down, Accardo said. “Each community that is sending now would benefit,” he said. And part of that benefit would be Derry’s.
The 100 students could be accommodated by Pinkerton’s current faculty and programs. Accardo said, “I asked Mr. Morse three times if any additional expense would be incurred by increasing the number of tuition students. Each time he said no,” he said.
In Accardo’s opinion, Derry Superintendent Laura Nelson and her team are “very effective” in keeping costs down. So it’s incumbent on the School Board and on Pinkerton to work together to find a solution.
Developing a budget can be looked at as “an exercise in expense management” or an effort to find sources of revenue, Accardo said.
Adding 100 students is a potential revenue source that should be acted on, he added.
Previous School Boards have raised concern that with more tuition students, the high school would be able to “cherry pick” its new students, denying talented Derry children the top spots on sports teams, drama and club competitions. “Will those opportunities be taken away? It is a real concern,” Accardo said.
But if something isn’t done, he added, the School Board and the Fiscal Advisory Committee aren’t going to be talking about whether or not an individual will make a team. They’ll be talking about cutting sports and the arts entirely, or charging for participation.
And the added students could work to the sending towns’ advantage, Accardo added. “If Mr. Morse allows more high-achieving students to come in from the non-sending districts, there’s a possibility of increasing test scores, and it may motivate other kids to push harder,” he said.
Besides, he said, “A number of private tuition students already attend the school, and I haven’t heard of any Armageddon” regarding sports, drama and other competitive activities.
“It won’t necessarily help the budget this year,” Accardo cautioned of the idea. “But imagine what the tuition impact will be if Pinkerton doesn’t pursue this.”
Derry School Board chair Dan McKenna thanked the two men for their input, and Nelson was asked to draft a letter to Morse based on the information presented.
In a phone interview Dec. 12, McKenna said the board has been open to new tuition students “as long as I’ve been on it.
“I think we were open this year, but Pinkerton never made a specific request,” he said.
There has been talk over the years about eliminating the private tuition cap, McKenna said. But again, no specific requests were made, he said.