February 22, 2011

Candidates debate Pinkerton Academy, state aid

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- If state adequacy aid is restored for next year, the incoming Derry School Board will be faced with directing those funds after making significant cuts to next year’s budget proposal this fall.
Incumbent Derry School Board member Wendy Smith, speaking at a candidates forum sponsored by Derry Community Television on Sunday, said she would hope to see the board put that money back into the bare-bones budget. Smith is seeking re-election to another three-year term on the board.
“If in fact the state does give us money, I think we should bring the programs back up to the levels they should be at,” Smith said. “And depending on
 what the amount of money is, we should bring the teachers back that were unfortunately let go.” 

The School Board’s budget cuts $4.5 million and 46 teaching positions for next year. 
But candidate Daniel McKenna, who served on the School Board’s fiscal advisory committee, said he would want to see at least some of that additional aid returned to Derry taxpayers. 
“The budget the School Board passed the fiscal advisory committee reviewed as a fiscally responsible budget, so I think that most of the money that would come back from the state if that was the case, should go to defer the tax burden,” McKenna said. 
McKenna said he would be most concerned with increasing funding to special education programs and setting aside money to deal with increasing retirement system costs. 
Kevin Coyle, who is a sitting town councilor, said he would want to send the balance of any restored funding to taxpayers. 
“Even if we got all that money back, we’re still looking at past the level tax rate if you turned it back to the tax base,” Coyle said. “And I think that’s where it belongs.” 
Candidates present at Sunday’s forum also expressed frustration with Pinkerton Academy’s level of participation in reductions for next year to account for that loss in state funding. But when asked about the potential for a new public high school to serve Derry students, candidates said that solution would be a long way off, if possible at all. 
“It’s sort of a toss-up for building a new high school or staying with Pinkerton,” Smith said. “If you had a new high school, the town would be controlling where the funds go and how much is spent on a budget. Right now we have no control over what Pinkerton does. They give us a number, and we pay.” 
“But as far as costs of building a new high school, I’m not even sure what that would look like right now,” Smith said. “But whether or not that’s an option? It may be something we need to look at.” 
McKenna said he sees a new high school as a last resort. 
“We need more dialogue, rather than Pinkerton just dictating the situation to us,” McKenna said. “Our relationship with Pinkerton is something we need to build on and to continue to improve. But I think at the same time we need to be able to have the conversation about building a high school. However, it would not be my first choice.” 
Coyle said he did not think a new high school was appropriate. 
“Our relationship with Pinkerton is strained at the moment, but we have to realize that we’ve spent 100-plus years with Pinkerton Academy. We need to work with them to provide the best possible education that we can,” he said. 
“We have to understand that they are here, that they are a viable entity and that they are staying,” Coyle said. “Building a high school would be prohibitive and just not feasible.” 
Candidate Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien was not present at the forum but prepared a written statement that was read aloud. 
The candidate’s forum was sponsored by Derry Community Television and will continue to air on local cable. 

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