State Adequacy Funding Drop Could Impact School Budget

While the Derry Cooperative School District’s 2014-15 working budget is coming in $1 million lower than the current approved budget, administrators warned this week that a drop in state adequacy funding could affect the final number.

Business Administrator Jane Simard and Superintendent Laura Nelson discussed an updated budget at the joint meeting of the School Board and the Fiscal Advisory Committee last Monday night.
The updated working budget for 2014-15 is $80,816,334.47, a drop of $1,087,389 from the approved 2013-14 number. The working budget is also $52,869 less than the default budget.
Recent adjustments included revising the budget with new health care and dental rates, 2.2 percent and zero respectively, and removing $202,500 from the possible Affordable Care Act penalty. Simard said she left $6,000 in the budget in case the district is charged a penalty.
Simard said she and Human Resources Director Katherine Kennedy went over the numbers, and “we’re confident there won’t be a penalty.” Simard explained that the penalty, if applied, would be $3,000 per eligible person, and they held back $6,000 to cover two penalties.
The district budgeted $202,500 for Affordable Care penalties in the 2013-14 budget, and it has not been used, Simard said. It will go into the Unexpended Fund Balance at the end of June.
She also talked with Maintenance Director Gary Webster about several items, including replacing the wall of windows at East Derry Memorial School, $40,000; new windows at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, $35,000; and gas conversion at Grinnell and Hood, $160,000.
They agreed to take the $40,000 out of this year’s budget, she said. Webster managed to find parts for the aging windows at Hood, so there isn’t an urgent need for full replacement, she said. As for the gas conversion, “We are going to work with the Property Committee and see if we can get a better picture for the cost.”
The working budget is 1.33 percent less than last year’s budget, Simard said. But she cautioned that they don’t yet have the Pinkerton Academy tuition figures, historically released around Thanksgiving, or Primex liability figures.
But revenues are also down. One revenue fund is down $3,137,960. And the district is also losing $476,672.94 of its state “adequate education” funding, Simard said. “The assessment will be higher because we are losing a half million in adequacy,” she said.
That translates to a possible district assessment of $2,527,263.
The group discussed ways to bring that down, with board member Ken Linehan revisiting the idea of larger classrooms. East Derry and Derry Village have some of the smaller class sizes of the district, he said, asking, “Are there opportunities to combine classrooms?”
Nelson responded, “If we do, and more students come in, we will be taking a risk. Is this a conversation we want to have?”
Linehan pointed to Derry Village School, which has 70 first-graders divided into four classrooms. “We could eliminate two positions and still fall under our ‘cap,’” he said. “The elimination could be handled through attrition.”
Chairman Brenda Willis said, “If we do it, we’ll be bumping up against 25 students per class.”
Board member Jennifer Lague agreed. “We will be right on the edge,” she said. “If someone moved in, we’d have to do what we did at Grinnell (adding a fifth-grade classroom after the beginning of the year). Do we really want to go through that again?”
Fiscal Advisory Committee member Craig Bulkley responded, “It wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
“It is not in the best interests of our students,” Willis said.
Bulkley said, “My role with this committee is to bring up issues and questions. If the standard is 25 in a classroom and we’re carrying 18 in some classes, how do we justify that?”
If they combined classes and set a budget without those two teachers, they would have to scramble later, Willis pointed out. “We’ve already formed a budget without that teacher,” she said.
Linehan suggested that if a crisis occurred, they would just give less money back to the town at the end of the year.
He added that he was not looking to cut for the sake of cutting. “It’s ‘right-sizing,’” he said of his proposal. “We’re not doing our job if we don’t ask these questions. And if we can’t sell it to the Advisory Committee, we won’t be able to sell it to the town.”
The board and committee also discussed an issue from an earlier meeting, taking $100,000 of the “savings” from the Affordable Care Act penalty money and directing it toward curriculum. Mary Ann Connors-Krikorian, assistant superintendent and head of curriculum, had originally requested $68,000 to help implement new programs, including Readers’ Workshop and Literacy Intervention. The two groups had discussed putting some of the penalty savings toward curriculum, to fast-track some of the programs. With the loss in adequacy funding, they agreed to keep Connors-Krikorian’s funding at $68,000 for now, with Nelson saying the district can still make “tremendous” progress with that amount.
Technology Director Ray Larose discussed his department’s needs, with a focus on the lease program for Apple computers. The newest computers will be used in the computer labs for students, including the upcoming Smarter Balanced test, he said.
Serena Levine, director of Supplemental Services, discussed the changing role of library Media Specialists and her request for a second library assistant for the two middle schools. The middle schools currently share one librarian with a Master’s in Library Science (MLS) and one assistant, who does the clerical tasks such as checking out books. The two alternate days at the two middle schools, she said.
Because there is only one library staff person on at each school, the librarian often finds herself doing the clerical tasks, Levine said. But with the Common Core standards being implemented, she is needed to consult with teachers on curriculum needs.
Having a second assistant would free up the librarian to “do what she is trained to do,” Levine said. An assistant would be assigned to each middle school.
The trained librarian also makes judgments on “what is out there” for media materials, Levine said, and how it can fit Common Core and Derry’s mission to educate.