Expressing concern that residential growth will outpace the School District’s strategic plan, the School Board directed Superintendent Nate Greenberg to confer with the Town Manager regarding reinstating school impact fees for new residential development.
The Town suspended its collection of impact fees in 2013, when a Rockingham Superior Court found the Town’s program, which had been in place since 1994, was at times contrary to legal requirements.
The purpose of school impact fees was to cover the cost of new development on the School District, according to Business Administrator Peter Curro.
“When development came in, the Planning Department had a calculation set forth by Bruce Mayberry that for a certain number of bedrooms and square footage, a developer was charged a fee for the go-ahead to build the house to cover the cost of the new development on the School District or town programs,” he said.
Curro and members of the Board said they don’t have an answer to why the Town decided to suspend school impact fees in addition to the town’s fees.
Board member Leitha Reilly, who is also a member of the Planning Board, said she is very concerned about the District’s ability to continue to provide services if the Town continues to see rapid residential growth even as the District faces losses in Catastrophic Aid and substantial increases for out-of-district placements.
“The impact on the School District will be significant,” Greenberg said at the board’s Tuesday, April 19 meeting. “And what people have to keep in mind is we’re presently sitting with exactly 4,381 students. We had close to 6,000 students at one point in the not-too-distant past, and those schools were overcrowded. Matthew Thornton (Elementary School) had over 1,000 kids and we were providing services in the boiler room, there were 30 kids in classrooms and there was no art or music room.”
Greenberg noted that if the District’s student population were to reach those levels again, schools would no longer be able to accommodate in-district special education programs.
“If we went back to that same population in each of the schools, I would have to ask the School Board for $6 million to do out-of-district placement for the special education programs we have,” he said.
In his third-quarter financial report, Curro said Special Education out-of-district placements and transportation will overrun the budget by about $544,000.
“When people move into this Town, there’s an expectation that comes with what you’re buying into when you move into the community. The people buying these homes and starting families, there’s a high expectation there that won’t be met if we continue at a rate of revenues going like this and expenses like that,” Reilly said.
Curro told the board regular salary accounts district-wide are expected to produce an estimated savings to the budget of $772,500; benefits, as a group, are expected to produce a savings of around $61,000; and thanks to a mild winter, energy costs are expected to provide a savings of around $90,000.
Considering historical data, trends and known future commitments, Curro said the expenditure side of the District’s budget is expected to come under budget by $340,000, with revenues projected to generate a surplus of $30,000.
In January, the District implemented a spending freeze barring essential purchases to ensure expenditures didn’t run over budget.
“Assuming no surprises in weather or any of the more volatile accounts, we expect to have a year-end fund balance of approximately $370,000 for fiscal year 2016,” Curro said. “During the budget development process for FY17, we estimated revenue to offset the FY17 tax rate from fund balance would be $200,000, plus the additional withholding of $100,000 for the equipment trust for a total of $300,000.”
The District’s recommendation for use of the projected year-end surplus includes transferring $100,000 into the equipment trust fund, as the voters approved; retaining $100,000 for unassigned fund balance; and using the remaining $170,000 as revenue to reduce the December 2016 (FY17) property tax rate.
Additionally, Curro reported the District’s Food Service program’s year-end bottom line is expected to break even or better.
Revenue for the program is up $143,260 from the same period last year.
At the middle school and high school, the total number of meals served is up, even though both had a drop in enrollment, according to Curro.
The high school has seen a 13 percent jump in meals served compared to last year, and both the middle and high school have seen a significant increase in the number of students participating in breakfast.
Although the improvement is promising, Curro cautioned the Board it’s impossible to forecast the future of the program with its performance in year one.
“Certainly, it is too early to discuss the idea of moving the middle school off the national lunch program,” he said. “As we discussed, we strongly feel we need to have two or three years of financial data and meal counts, as well as student input, to decide the real impact of the decision.”