School Board Faced With 4.9 Percent Increase from PA

In the wake of tuition increases from Pinkerton Academy, the Derry Cooperative School District board felt forced during its latest budget review to consider cutting teachers and support positions in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The 4.9 percent increase in regular tuition and other increases in special education for the semi-private school where Derry tuitions its high school students translates into $428,864.53 in additional costs.

The total increase in Pinkerton’s budget totals $1,223,332. Derry, the largest sending town, picks up about 35 percent of that increase. The other sending towns are Hampstead, Chester and Auburn.
At the start of the Tuesday, Dec. 3 meeting, school board chair Brenda Willis expressed her shock at the numbers because of what they would likely force in the Kindergarten through Grade 8 portion of the district’s budget, a presentiment that held true in the later portion of the meeting.
“It infuriates me because it’s going to hugely impact K through 8,” said Willis.
School District business administrator Jane Simard explained the specifics of the Pinkerton numbers that evening, as they accounted for significant changes to the latest budget proposal. The main driver is in regular education, where the tuition increase amounts to a 3.53 percent rise.
According to Pinkerton officials, its budget includes four new full-time positions, two part-time positions and one part- to full-time role. Three new courses are included: Spanish Honors 3, Introduction to Sound Production and Work Ready New Hampshire.
A placeholder of an estimated 3 percent increase in regular education was previously included in Derry’s 2014-2015 budget proposal.
Pinkerton’s ACT (Alternative Comprehensive Training) special education program tuition shows a decrease of .8 percent, while resource room increased by 8.13 percent in addition to regular education tuition, and a 15.79 percent increase to PASSES (Pinkerton Academy Special Services for Educational Success), an increase more than offset by a drop in the estimated number of participating students.
Further impacting the district is a reduction in state adequacy aid of $476,672.94, a cost downshift from the state that needs to be picked up by local property tax.
School board member Neal Ochs said the board needed to begin looking at reducing teaching positions. “There was some discussion at last meeting about cutting positions due to a decrease in class size, and I think that’s something realistically that we have to start talking about,” he said.
Derry superintendent Laura Nelson said positions had already been cut prior to the board’s seeing the budget. She said that at the current juncture in the budget process, there wasn’t anything left that could be removed to mitigate the tuition hike and reduced revenues without impacting students or programs.
“Any reduction at this point will impact student services, it just depends on what we want to absorb as the impact. Because there isn’t anything left in the budget that isn’t student service related,” Nelson said. “We’ve attempted to keep spending down and we have. But it isn’t enough to make up for the loss of adequacy (funding) and now for the additional tuition. We’re now cutting programs or really changing class size. There are no other options available to us. We’re looking at people and programs now.”
School board member Jennifer Lague said removing a teaching position or two would not make a great impact in the overall budget or in the resulting tax rate.
“Here we are again, talking about cutting (grades) K to 8; making adjustments in K to 8; taking things away from K to 8. And they (Pinkerton) just billed a million dollars extra,” said Willis.
The class sizes at Derry Village Elementary School became the focus of several discussions about where costs could be removed. A couple of classes at that school haven’t hit the state limit for student-to-teacher ratios, one grade 4 and one grade 5 classroom.
Grade 4 at Derry Village has a projected 72 students and four teachers, and taking one of those positions away would put class sizes at 24 students instead of 18. In grade 5, it would be 23 instead of 17 and 18.
“Those are the only two classes that wouldn’t automatically breach over 25 students,” said Nelson.
Nelson also suggested the board could consider removing a media assistant between the two middle schools and a reading specialist at Grinnell Elementary School; both would be new positions next year. Grinnell is the only school in the district without a regular education reading specialist, Nelson cautioned. Also, two consultants for literacy intervention could be considered at $15,000 each, as well as a computer lease of $30,000.
“Those are small amounts, but that’s really it. That’s the end of the line,” said Nelson.
No decisions were made, as the board agreed they needed the specific numbers laid out to determine the wisdom of cutting the positions. Simard said she would calculate the numbers so that they can be ready for review prior to the board’s Tuesday, Dec. 10 meeting, which occurs after the Nutfield News goes to press.
Nelson concluded by stating that that the Pinkerton tuition wasn’t what they expected or hoped to see and that the administration had worked to bring the board a responsible budget.
“You’ve already done that,” said Willis. “Not expecting an additional $500 per student at Pinkerton Academy. It changes the game.”
The total budget reviewed at the meeting was $81,373,181.24.