By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — School officials say they are doing a lot to save taxpayers money. But some say more should be done.
The School Board presented its proposed $81.9 million budget for next year at a well attended public hearing Jan. 21. That number includes the $2.5 million for the self-funded food service program and other federal funds.
The proposed budget is $1 million less than the current year’s budget and, if approved, would be a $0.46 reduction on the town’s tax rate and a 1.37 percent cut in spending.
Business administrator Jane Simard gave the budget highlights, including ways the district was saving money and other areas where costs are going up.
Some budget points include spending $26.8 million on high school tuition costs to send students to Pinkerton Academy, the NEXT charter school, or out-of-district for special education.
High school tuition makes up 34 percent of the district’s budget.
There will also be an estimated drop in enrollment numbers that will forge a drop in state adequacy aid that is based on student numbers.
Derry stands to lose about $476,600 in state aid.
Based on enrollment, the district will eliminate some positions, most of which will go away due to attrition.
“We also saw a dramatic increase in state retirement costs,” Simard said, “and added cost we had to incur passed on by the state.”
Savings include a payoff of a West Running Brook Middle School bond that will save $495,000 on next year’s budget number.
Resident Kevin Coyle said if the district’s enrollment is declining, maybe it’s time to consider closing a building.
“I have two children in school and I appreciate the education they are receiving,” he said. “But you need to start considering reducing some of your staff, even consider closing a school. We can’t afford it. We have the highest tax rate in Southern New Hampshire and it’s driven by the school.”
Another sticking point with some was how the school district used the $800,000 that a handful of residents voted to restore to last year’s budget at the deliberative session meeting.
Simard said $257,000 of that amount was spent on staff including an elementary guidance counselor, part-time band teacher, grade five teacher, grade five educational assistant and the negotiated educational assistant contract agreement approved by voters at a special election in June 2013.
Any remaining funds would be returned to the town at the end of the current fiscal year, she said.
Resident Lynn Perkins said if the district is paying off a bond and has fewer students to pay for, why are there not more reduced costs seen in the budget numbers.
“I respect all you do,” Perkins said. “I wish you could do a little better. Taxpayers have been sucker-punched for the last several years.”
School Board Chairman Brenda Willis said the district is looking at an enrollment study to see where the numbers are headed and how to better pay for education based on those numbers.
“It’s to see where we can go with our enrollment and our buildings,” she said.
Laura Nelson said everyone worked hard to present a fiscally responsible budget for next year. That includes the hard work of the School Board, Fiscal Advisory Committee, school staff and administration.
“We have worked to put money back where it needs to be,” she said.
Derry’s school deliberative session is Feb. 8 at 10 a.m. at the West Running Brook Middle School gym.