By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Facing declining enrollment projections for at least the next 10 years, Pinkerton Academy trustees are looking to an Auburn tuition agreement and the removal of an off-contract student cap to maintain programming.
While Pinkerton has at times held around 3,400 students, there are 3,169 on campus this year, said Headmaster Mary Anderson during a meeting with sending towns on Thursday. Next year, that number is expected to fall to 3,100, she said. By 2019, projections show enrollment could reach 2,469.
“With 500 less students, things get really precarious,” Anderson told school boards and administrators from Derry, Hampstead and Chester Thursday night. “If you take away 500 students, we’re not going to be able to cost-effectively run the programs we run now.”
If Auburn voters agree to send their students to Pinkerton beginning in 2013, Anderson said, the school’s enrollment would reach 2,966 in that first year, coupled with decreasing numbers from Derry, Hampstead and Chester.
Once the transition is complete in 2016, Anderson said about 260 Auburn students would attend Pinkerton, bringing the 2016-2017 enrollment to about 3,028.
“The Auburn students stabilize the tuition, which in the end is going to do nothing but save everybody money because it will maintain those enrollment levels so we can effectively maintain tuition,” Anderson said at the Thursday meeting. “We don’t want to get into the position where we are eliminating programs because it’s too costly and there’s not the enrollment for it.”
Auburn already sends 82 students to Pinkerton off contract, Anderson said.
Anderson and the Pinkerton trustees also asked sending towns Thursday to consider removing the current enrollment cap of 135 students from towns outside of Derry, Hampstead and Chester.
The permanent contract allows for 75 students to be tuitioned in to Pinkerton from outside the three contracted towns, but that number has increased to 135 with two temporary agreements from the sending school boards.
Those 135 possible students account for an additional $1.3 million in tuition revenue with little financial cost to the school, Anderson said, as students will be spread across grade levels and require no additional staffing.
But some in the sending towns said they worried that removing the cap could open the door to skyrocketing enrollments in years to come.
“I hear that 3,100 is where you want to fill it to, but is there any guarantee that in four or five years other trustees wouldn’t like to recruit kids from Saudi Arabia and put it up to 3,400 or 3,500?” asked Winfried Feneberg, assistant superintendent for Hampstead and Timberlane Regional school districts. “By giving up that cap, is there any protection for the size of the school?”
Speaking on behalf of the board, Pinkerton trustee William Nevious said that’s not the group’s intent.
“There’s some idea that we want this to go up to 3,500 or 3,700 and absolutely that’s not where we are,” Nevious said. “... We’re not looking for ways to grow this school to 4,000 students. That’s just not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying do make the taxpayer in the position where we won’t have to keep raising taxes because enrollments are going down.”
Anderson said it will be up to the sending school boards to make the final decision about the off-contract cap.