Derry has a working school budget proposal for 2016-17.
At their Dec. 14 final meeting, the combined School Board and Fiscal Advisory Committee agreed on a budget they will present to voters in the Jan. 12 Public Hearing and the Jan. 30 Deliberative Session.
The proposed budget has a bottom line of $83,387,799. Without including revenues, this is an increase of $3,210,686 over last year’s approved $80,177,113. However, with revenues expected, the actual increase is $1,655,475.27. If approved, it would be a 2.13 percent increase.
The default budget is $81,870,491, a decrease of $1,517,308 from the new working budget.
Business Administrator Jane Simard said the budget is still subject to change, pending the settling of a transportation contract. She declined to give the average cost on a single-family home due to the Town Council’s still having to set its budget.
Board and Fiscal Advisory members wielded a red pencil Monday night, trimming the original bottom line to a number they said they could live with without affecting the quality of direct classroom teaching.
Upon a request from the two groups, Superintendent Laura Nelson presented a list of possible cuts from the original budget, including:
• Chromebook Labs, a savings of $29,000;
• Chromebooks for Derry Village and Barka elementary schools, a savings of $12,850;
• Paperless registration system, saving $18,000;
• In-school suspension supervisor, saving $16,000;
• Technology Education assistant, saving $18,000;
• LCD Projectors and accessories for new math curriculum, saving $16,385;
• Supply line, savings of $16,999;
• Media, saving $15,624;
• Computer repair, saving $15,000;
• Transportation, $10,000; and
• Two paraprofessionals for East Derry Memorial Elementary School, saving $32,000.
In addition, Nelson said she could save $19,900 on Professional Development by using unexpended funds from a grant received this year.
The only Reduction in Force for certified teachers came from eliminating two sixth-grade teacher positions, as the “teams” in the two middle schools are aligned so both schools have four teams. One currently has five, Nelson said.
The total possible reductions Nelson presented were $359,758.
The board and advisers’ consensus was that they could live with most of the cuts, but they pressed for more and Nelson and her team delivered.
Assistant Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian said she had spoken to publishers of the new middle-school math curriculum and they were willing to provide the curriculum on a time-payment basis over three years. Deferring the last two payments out of 2016-17 results in a savings of $192,000.
The board and advisers also liked the idea of taking the budgeted cost for transportation, $100,000, out of the budget until Business Administrator Jane Simard finishes negotiating the contract.
The working budget brought to the table Monday night included cuts Simard had already made, including $134,578 trimmed from the tuition for children attending Next Charter School. Board chair Dan McKenna explained that the Next students would be paid for under the Pinkerton Academy line. The Next line is overexpended and the Pinkerton line underexpended, McKenna said, though he added that it could change if more students chose Next. “This is a gamble,” McKenna said.
Simard also said she could save $100,000 on utility costs with the conversion to natural gas at Gilbert H. Hood Middle and Grinnell Elementary schools.
On the revenue side, Simard said Medicaid reimbursement is projected as $175,000 more than last year.
Board member Brenda Willis wasn’t pleased about the idea of eliminating the two East Derry aides, noting that the positions had just been added this year.
Nelson said, “Once school starts next year, if enrollment increases, we will add support. But we have that issue with all our classes,” she added. “It is a concern at any time.”
“It doesn’t make sense to take them out and put them back in,” Willis observed.
Nelson told the two groups, “Every line in this budget has been gone through. If we cut anything else, it will be a reduction in programs or a reduction in teachers.”
The issue, Nelson said, is, “What can we support? We were told loud and clear that you can’t support the original budget.” Nelson reminded the group that most of the increases are fixed costs “that we have no control over as a school district.”
Member Ken Linehan asked about the LCD projectors, noting that those are needed to implement the new math curriculum. Nelson agreed that they were, but said she had found funding through a grant.
Adviser Carl Accardo encouraged the group to go for alternate sources of revenue. He had already proposed allowing Pinkerton to increase the number of private tuition students it is allowed by contract (see story page 3), and on Monday he had another suggestion: charge the sending towns a portion of what it costs to provide Pinkerton with Derry’s police, fire and ambulance services.
“We should pro-rate it among the other communities,” Accardo said. “It will help minimize the tax consequences of any budget we pass.”
Accardo also advocated for working with the Town Council and state legislators to “create a synergy” and keep costs down.
Dozens of Derry teachers attended the meeting, some in blue T-shirts that said they support “Strong Public Schools.” They did not speak in the meeting because it was not a public forum.
Much of the discussion centered around a proposed “data coach” to help the district process information and improve its data-driven decision making. Nelson had budgeted the position for $115,000, but took it out in her list of possible reductions.
Fiscal Adviser Craig Bulkley reminded the group, “There is still an elephant in this room. We haven’t finished negotiating the teacher contract.”
The group discussed cutting two teachers from the PACE program, the district’s program for gifted and talented students, and using the money to fund the data coach. Linehan didn’t like it, saying, “I think that money is better spent on programs with direct student involvement such as PACE.”
Adviser Glenn Manchester said, “With the type of program PACE is, I can’t support any cuts to it.”
Adviser Carl Accardo argued for the data coach along with Adviser Ric Buzzanga.
Willis was opposed to the data coach “unless the Federal government pays for it.” And she pointed out that, at $115,000, it equaled a third of the possible cuts on Nelson’s memo.
The majority of the group agreed by consensus to keep the data coach in the budget.
The groups also agreed by consensus to send the budget on to the voters. “It is higher than I would like but I can support it,” McKenna said. “We are still being responsible.”
It’s still too high for Adviser Walter Deyo, who said, “There are people in this town on fuel assistance. There are people who eat at the soup kitchen. You need to think about them. Some day you’ll be on the other end.”
The groups initially had no response to this. Then Nelson said, “Our silence does not mean we are ignoring you. The School Board made a concerted effort to come before you and create a budget.”
The Derry Kindergarten-Grade 8 system suffers because of fixed expenses and other costs, Nelson said, adding, “K-8 gets everything shoved off on it. But the inference that we don’t care is not true. We just don’t know what to say to make it better.”
And Buzzanga, a seven-year veteran of Fiscal Advisory, was just glad it was over. “These are the seven worst weeks of my year,” he quipped.