DERRY — Voters got another look at the proposed school spending plan for next year, and approved sending the amount to the March ballot during Saturday's deliberative session.

The meeting drew about 100 people to West Running Brook Middle School.

The proposed total budget for school year 2020-21 — $92 million — includes the district’s self-funded food service program and other federal programs.

The budget number shows an increase of about $4.4 million over the current budget.

In his final deliberative session, outgoing school board Chairman Dan McKenna gave an overview of the budget. McKenna will not seek another term on the board.

One major budget addition, McKenna said, is a plan to add a full-day, tuition-free kindergarten program in the district.

Benefits for a full-day schedule, officials say, include increased play time, exploration, more access to unified arts classes, more social time and expanded developmental activities and instruction.

Right now, Derry offers a free half-day program for its kindergarten students. For a full-day, tuition is charged.

In the state of New Hampshire, there are about 150 school districts already offering a full day of kindergarten.

Costs to bring a full day to Derry would be for additional staff and equipment to ready four new classrooms for the full-day program. Kindergarten classes are currently held in all the district’s elementary schools.

McKenna also noted improvements in student testing scores and said the district is taking many steps to improve student performance.

"It's a trend we see moving forward in the future," he said.

Other budget highlights include adding staff for various jobs including reading assistants, special education teachers, a computer technician, additional secretarial hours and for the full-day kindergarten plan, five special education assistants, five kindergarten education assistants, and five kindergarten teachers.

The district’s transportation contract rate also went up 3%, an increase of $201,064.51. Two additional special education buses are included in the budget.

A 1:1 technology initiative is also included at a cost of $151,950.

The Derry district received a $3.4 million one-time fiscal disparity aid amount from the state with more than $2 million of that funding going to support one-time projects in the district including roofing, paving and equipment for food service needs.

The school warrant not only includes the proposed budget, but also an article dealing with a collective bargaining agreement reached between the school board and the district’s food service staff, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 1445.

The two-year contract would call for increases in salaries and benefits at $28,225 in year 2020-2021 and $28,225 in year 2021-2022.

The budget process this year was challenging, McKenna said, thanking district staff, administration and the volunteer Fiscal Advisory Committee members for their hard work.

"It was a long budget season this year," McKenna said, "and a larger number than we'd like to present. We needed to make investments, full-day kindergarten, and taking advantage of our one-time infrastructure upgrades."

When the meeting ended, McKenna was honored for his time serving the Derry Cooperative School District.

School Superintendent Mary Ann Connors-Krikorian credited McKenna for advocating "tirelessly" for students.

Election day is Tuesday, March 10. Voters will not only consider the budget and warrant articles, but will also choose two school board members, each for three-year terms.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with District 1 and 4 voters heading to Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, District 2 votes at Calvary Bible Church, and District 3 heads to West Running Brook Middle School.  

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