Questions on Enrollment, Next Location Continue

A community member continued to challenge the Derry School Board on its enrollment and the decision to move the Next Charter School to West Running Brook Middle School.

Mark Connors spoke in the Public Comment portion of the Oct. 14 School Board meeting, pressing the board for answers about the Space Needs Study that will be completed at the end of the month.

Earlier in the meeting Superintendent Laura Nelson gave the updated enrollment figures. The Oct. 1 numbers are the ones she submits to the state Department of Education for calculating state adequacy funding, she said.

The grand total of students in the district is 5,604, including home-schooled, out of district and Derry Early Education Program (DEEP), she said. The grand total in grades Kindergarten-12 is 5,336, down 130 from last year’s Oct. 1 tally of 5,466.

When Connors asked why the public didn’t have these figures, Nelson said the sheet was available to anyone who asked. “They are also on our Web site,” she said.

Connors’ contention has been that the schools are not crowded and that the move to West Running Brook was unnecessary. He read off the Oct. 1 enrollment for each school and its capacity for students, including the following:

• Barka Elementary, 583 enrollment, capacity 700;

• Derry Village Elementary, 438 enrollment, capacity 670;

• East Derry Memorial Elementary, 383 students, capacity 600;

• Grinnell Elementary, 396 enrollment, capacity 600;

• South Range Elementary, 348 enrollment, capacity 525;

• Gilbert H. Hood Middle, 690 enrollment, capacity 1,100; and

• West Running Brook Middle, 547 enrollment, capacity 750.

The DEEP preschool, housed at Gilbert H. Hood, has 107 students according to the report.

Connors asked the board and administration if they were confident they would get the study back by the end of October, and Nelson said that was the deadline in the RFP (Request for Proposals).

Repeating the theme brought forth in previous meetings by community member Glen Potvin, Connors asked the board if it planned to have community involvement in discussing the results of the study. “Why hasn’t there been a plan for community involvement?” he asked.

“We do plan for community involvement,” board member Ken Linehan responded. “Something this big would call for that. But if the result is something like redistricting, that wouldn’t happen next year. If there are solutions we can come up with in this budget cycle, we will.” The board and Fiscal Advisory Committee are currently crafting the 2015-16 budget.

“So nothing’s going to happen this next year?” Connors pressed.

“Nothing significant or large,” Linehan said. But there will be community input, Linehan said, pointing to initiatives in the past such as the superintendent search and the establishment of kindergarten.

Connors said, “So you don’t expect a committee to be formed until after the first of the year?”

That was a correct assessment, chairman Neal Ochs said, noting that the board needed time to go through the study first and process the information.

Connors countered, “So there’s no plan to move Next out of West Running Brook? Is there any plan to look at alternatives?”

It could happen, member Dan McKenna said, noting, “We moved Next after the budget was set. That doesn’t preclude moving it again.”

“So there’s no plan to move Next?” Connors asked.

“There is no plan not to move it,” McKenna said.

“There could be space we haven’t discovered yet,” Ochs told him.