DERRY — During a joint meeting of the town council and school board special committees last week, a panel of newly elected and reelected state lawmakers sat down with town officials to discuss plans for stopping a yearly withdrawal of state education funding and perhaps restoring it to prior levels.
They also discussed potential ideas for controlling school district budget costs.
This is the second joint meeting between council Chairman Jim Morgan; councilors Richard Tripp, Brian Chirichiello and Phyllis Katsakiores; school board Chairman Lynn Perkins; and board members Dan McKenna and Michelle McKinnon.
The two committees have agreed to work together to find ways to control the rise of property taxes, particularly due to budget issues on the school side.
Joining them last week were Sen. Regina Birdsell; and Reps. John Potucek, John O’Connor, David Love, Katherine Prudhomme O’Brien, David Milz and Mary Eisner.
On the agenda were five items related to school funding and school costs: retirement contributions, state education funding and legislative efforts to increase or freeze it, the school district budget, school facilities and the state’s method for determining comparable property values for each community.
On the issue of retirement contributions, McKenna said the school district pays $4 million in retirement contributions, and that the line item has grown from being 2 percent of the budget to 7 percent over recent years.
The group talked about a proposed bill by Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) that would potentially reduce the town’s contribution requirements.
There are a couple legislative efforts planned for addressing the reduction of stabilization grants from the state, which make up about $7.2 million (or 25 percent of state aid) for Derry.
Unlike adequacy funding, which is based on enrollment, stabilization grants are a flat rate for 170 qualifying communities.
The latest funding formula included a planned phase out of stabilization grants by reducing the grants by 4 percent each year. McKenna said that amounts to a loss of about $340,000 annually.
“There was supposed to be something to replace the stabilization grants, but that hasn’t been put in place,” McKenna said.
Birdsell said she is proposing a bill in the Senate to bring stabilization grant funding back to 2012 levels. Meanwhile, another bill in the House would freeze stabilization funding. She expects the two bills will result in a compromise.
The panel agreed those efforts were necessary but only a stop-gap until an improved funding formula is passed.
At issue is the more state funding goes away, the more town property taxes will increase to make up the difference. “We’re downshifting that to the local taxpayer,” Chirichiello said.
Morgan said just freezing stabilization funding would be a big help. “For Derry, education funding is perhaps the biggest issue we have,” Morgan said.
When the issue of school facilities came up, Morgan revisited the issue of closing a school, which the school board discussed at its last meeting. He suggested they could use the closed facility for full-day kindergarten and as a shared office space for the school administrative unit and the town’s parks and recreation department.
Morgan said the town could then sell or redevelop the current SAU and parks office properties.