, Derry, New Hampshire

January 10, 2013

School officials face tough choices

Officials pore over every spending item

By Julie Huss

---- — School officials in Derry and Londonderry hope to save money next year without hurting the quality of education in the classroom.

Both towns presented budgets this week showing reductions in staff, supplies and services to help offset major funding shortfalls.

Those shortfalls are a result of the state pushing higher retirement and health-care costs onto communities.

In Londonderry, some budget cuts already have been restored.

Last week, Londonderry School Board members spent hours trying to decide what to do about 32 teaching assistant jobs that were cut from superintendent Nate Greenberg’s original $65.8 million budget. The board eventually voted, 4-1, to restore 14 of those positions.

“If the state had not downshifted funds (to us), we would be returning money to the taxpayers,” board member Steve Young said. “That’s no fault of our own. The revenue from the state is just not there.”

Greenberg’s budget also showed about $1 million in other personnel cuts, plus another $904,000 in non-personnel reductions.

“I think we have been very aggressive in some of the things we asked Mr. Greenberg to do,” School Board Chairman John Laferriere said.

Greenberg said he prioritized cuts that could be made with the least impact to students and their education.

Even if the aides had remained out of the budget, Greenberg said, the district’s schools would have functioned well.

Restoring funding for some aides was a good compromise, he said.

“To achieve the proposed budget recommendations, we worked diligently with the administrative staff to address all the factors impacting our budget,” Greenberg said, “as well as addressing our strategic plan and being mindful of the necessity to be strategic forward thinking regarding future issues.”

Londonderry’s revised budget is now $66 million, well under the $67.1 million default budget, Young said.

Derry’s district also had to find cost savings in its proposed $81 million budget for next year.

The budget includes $2.5 million for the self-funded food service program and other federal programs.

Derry School Board members, administrators and fiscal advisory committee members met for months to plan next year’s budget and find ways to cut costs. School superintendent Laura Nelson said the district looked at everything in an effort to save money.

“We are looking at all the places where we can scale down,” she said.

District business administrator Jane Simard said there would be teaching and other staff cuts as part of the paring down of the budget, but would not give specifics on what jobs might be affected.

Some jobs will be lost after people in those positions retire this year. Savings also will come through fewer requests for furniture and supplies.

Simard said budget season is never easy, but all departments and staff worked together to come up with ways to make the budget smart and economical.

“It’s always difficult especially when you have to eliminate positions,” she said.

Simard said it’s always a priority to save as much money as possible for taxpayers.

“It’s part of our job to be fiscally responsible,” she said. “We do that each year.”

The public hearing on Derry’s budget proposal was scheduled for Tuesday and Londonderry’s is Thursday at 7 p.m.