By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — School officials hope to save money next year and could cut staff positions in order to do it.
The district’s teachers association said that’s a bad idea.
At a public budget hearing last week, Derry Education Association president Meg Morse-Barry urged School Board members to reconsider their plan to cut jobs as part of next year’s budget.
The proposed general fund budget number for the 2013-2014 school year stands at $78.6 million, an increase of 1.65 percent over the current school year budget.
The official budget number appearing on the March ballot will increase to $81.1 million with the district’s self-funded food service and other federal programs added in.
Two years ago, dozens of staff cuts were made to save money. This time, officials want to cut 7.5 positions.
“It’s disappointing to be in this position again,” Morse-Barry said. “We understand the reduction, but cutting 7.5 positions is an enormous amount to cut.”
Derry joins other communities facing shortfalls in money coming from the state for adequacy aid. The district will also have to pay more in state retirement and health-care costs for its employees.
District business administrator Jane Simard said every item in the budget, every possible place to save money, was studied. School Board members, the volunteer fiscal advisory committee and school administrators worked together to forge a fiscal plan for next year.
“We looked at every line item to make cuts or increases wherever they needed to be,” Simard said.
She said the district’s schools are all in good shape, so some major renovation projects could be put on hold.
Student enrollment numbers also factored in to what staff cuts could be made.
Right now, the district has 5,876 students enrolled in grades K-8, at Pinkerton Academy, homeschooled or placed in out-of-district locations for services.
The district also has more than 549 employees, including teachers, nurses, administrators, support staff, guidance and food service staff. Some positions will go away through retirement, Simard said. Other open positions would not be filled. She did not name any specific jobs that could be eliminated.
The district will add two assistant principals to next year’s number as Justin Krieger and Joe Crawford, both currently serving as assistant principals, will move over to the new NEXT charter school to serve as co-directors.
Superintendent Laura Nelson said the state passed a lot of extra costs on to Derry, making next year’s budget a challenge.
“There is $600,000-plus passed onto to us from the New Hampshire retirement piece alone,” she said.
The state also cut about $2.4 million in Derry’s adequacy funding. Communities across the state all hope to get their fair share, but the economy remains tight.
“Looking at those two alone, that is significant,” Nelson said. “Money is an issue in this economy and we are all vying for that.”
She said the staff cuts were necessary.
“We are still balancing our obligations to our taxpayers as well,” she said.
Morse-Barry said by cutting staff, the district suffers by offering fewer services to its students. She said people come to Derry for a reason.
“(They come here) for a quality education,” she said. “If we keep cutting the staff, we’re cutting into the quality education Derry is known for. We can’t keep doing this. If it’s all about the kids; we need to be thinking about them.”
Voters will hear more budget details at the deliberative session Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. at West Running Brook Middle School gym.
Residents can amend any numbers or warrant articles at that time.
Ballot voting on the budget and election of town and school officials is March 12.