At the July 17 School Board meeting, Peter Curro, Business Manager for the school district, provided updates on the FY2018 budget and proposed requests for the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
Overall, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, the district had a $665,000 general fund budget surplus. Curro pointed out that this was an unaudited amount which would not be finalized until the district’s outside auditing firm reviews and approves the numbers in Oct.
About half of the surplus came from lower than forecast spending overall. Costs for professional salaries and out-of-district SPED tuition came in a combined $825K lower than budgeted. Some of the areas with higher than expected spending include pay for substitute teachers and retirement benefits.
On the revenue side, a significant contributor to the surplus was higher than expected Medicaid reimbursements related to special education, but several other line items contributed.
Curro noted that the surplus could have been higher, but once it became clear to the district that there would be a significant surplus, the decision was made to increase spending on IT, where the district opted to spend an additional $80,000 on upgrading systems and software. This restored some of the cuts to IT made during the budget planning cycle last year.
Outside of the general fund budget the dining program had a $40,000 surplus generated by vending machines at LHS and LMS.
Turning to the CIP, Curro presented the proposal from the district leadership. The CIP process is used by the town to plan for major, future capital projects, mostly related to buildings and infrastructure. Curro was there to get feedback from the School Board prior to presenting the district’s ideas to the Planning Board on August 11.
Items that are adopted in the formal CIP document by the town council generally must be approved by town voters because they require funding outside of the usual school and town budgets.
Prior to presenting specifics, Curro pointed out that it was a challenge to forecast space needs at this time because in parallel a school district committee was currently assessing space and program needs. That report is due in the fall and having it may alter the CIP requests, but in the meantime leadership estimated as best they could. He also added that cost associated with each item on the CIP were estimated on the high-end to give a worst-case scenario for now.
The top capital priority for the district is expansion of Moose Hill kindergarten. In the draft plan, school district leadership slotted in $10.8M for expansion in FY2020 along with the addition of two classrooms at South School. This worst-case scenario assumed continued growth in kindergarten enrollment and a move to full-day kindergarten. Curro stressed that there is no plan to move to full-day, but if town opted to go to full-day, then this would be the approximate cost.
Curro highlighted that the plan notes stated that if the town stayed at half-day kindergarten, then expansion would still be required at an estimated maximum cost of $3.5M for six additional classrooms at Moose Hill and the two classrooms at South School.
Board Member Steve Young did not feel that he had enough information to make a decision on the proposed Moose Hill expansion. He felt that the district should also consider alternatives including adding modular classrooms or moving kindergarten students to the elementary schools.
After discussion, the School Board agreed to move the expansion line item out a year and to amend the wording to clearly indicate that the amount requested would vary depending on whether the town moved to full-day kindergarten or not.
Another element of the proposed CIP were a series of upgrades and renovations to other schools in the district. Curro shared that this line item covered upgrades to the aging elementary schools and renovations to what he called the “core” of Londonderry Middle School (LMS). Beyond improvements to the LMS core, examples of upgrades include modernization of classrooms, updates to building mechanical and administrative office space.
LMS was updated in 1986, but these updates did not include areas such as the cafeteria, gym, library or multi-purpose room. The updates to LMS and the elementary schools are slotted in the CIP for 2022.
The third item on the proposed CIP was $25M in FY2024 for a new elementary school. According to the CIP proposal notes the potential need for this is based on higher enrollment predictions, already tight quarters and growing class sizes at the elementary schools.
The last item was an auditorium at the high school proposed at $10M in FY2025 as a placeholder if the community votes approval of this at some point.
With the amendments to the Moose Hill portion of the CIP and no changes to other elements, the Board voted 4-0 to present the CIP to the CIP Committee.