School Officials Prepare for Saturday’s Deliberative Session

The Derry School Board and administration held the last of their public information meetings on the budget, as they prepare for Saturday’s Deliberative Session.

Superintendent Laura Nelson, board chair Brenda Willis, and board members Dan McKenna and Jen Lague gathered in the library of West Running Brook Middle School along with the school’s principal, Leslie Saucier, on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Though only one member of the public attended, the group gave him all the time he needed for the often-confusing journey through the budget process.

It was their ninth such meeting of the season, Willis said, noting that they had been going around to Parent Teacher Association (PTA) groups and other stakeholders.

“We are using talking points about the budget,” Nelson said. “Our goal is to get the budget to a larger audience.”

Jeff Davis of East Derry has two children, a third grader and a fifth grader. The fifth-grader is a student at East Derry Memorial School. Davis said he received an e-mail about the meeting and decided to attend. He’s happy with the education his children receive, he said, but wanted to know how the budget was determined.

McKenna walked him through the process, with a laptop and a PowerPoint created by Business Administrator Jane Simard. McKenna explained that the budgeting process begins in the fall with the board and the Fiscal Advisory Committee, a group of Derry residents. The principals make lists of what they want and what they need, which are reviewed by Nelson and used to create a first-draft budget. Requests are reviewed and measured against revenues and the tax rate, board members said.

McKenna explained the rationale behind both adding and discontinuing positions and said both actions were based on student enrollment.

Reading along, Davis noticed a “big jump in contracted services for maintenance” and McKenna explained that was for replacing the lines from the oil tank to the East Derry School, a replacement that Nelson said is federally mandated by July 2015.

The proposed budget, by itself, is less than last year’s approved budget and less than the default budget, McKenna said. But the district is losing some state and federal aid, he added.

“Do you think there will be any resistance to the budget? Have you heard anything?” Davis asked.

Nelson said she had heard rumors of resistance, but no one had come directly to the School Administrative Unit (SAU) office to complain. “We are concerned about the tax rate,” she said.

Davis asked about the $800,000 added back into the budget at last year’s deliberative session.

McKenna said the board had proposed eliminating 14 positions. With the $800,000, it was able to replace some but not all of them, he said. The money was also used for raises in the educational assistants’ contract, not paying that through taxes, and to deal with increased student populations at Grinnell and Barka elementary schools. Both schools had an influx of fifth-graders, and some of the money was used to create a new fifth-grade classroom at Grinnell, he said. The Barka teachers were team-teaching and didn’t want their process disrupted, he said, so the district hired a fifth-grade aide instead of a teacher.

“It is hard to know what people will do,” Willis said. The feedback she got from the community was concern about the positions being cut, she said.

Catastrophic Aid, the federal reimbursement for special education, is also a driver of the budget, McKenna said. While the district is entitled to receive $1 million, this year it will receive $796,000 in reimbursement.

“Revenue is decreasing faster than the budget,” Nelson said. “The budget is 1.6 percent lower than the current year, but it will still increase taxes.”

Davis said while his taxes were high, he was happy with the education his child was receiving. “Derry is head and shoulders above the neighboring towns in taxes,” he said. “But I’m more concerned that my kids get what they need.”

He added, “If I get to a point where I don’t agree with that, I’ll move.”

The School District Deliberative Session is Saturday, Feb. 8, at 10 a.m. at West Running Brook Middle School.