NOTES OF AUGUST 3, 2017 RYE SCHOOL FEASIBILITY COMMITTEE MEETING
Final Revision B – Provided by the Rye Civic League
Present (clockwise around table): Member Doran Morford, Member Gregg Mikolaities, SAU50 Business Manager Jim Katkin, Co-Chairman Paula Tsetsilas (School Board), Co-Chairman Peggy Balboni, Member Marc Sedan (RJH parent), Sal Petralia (SAU 50 Superintendent), Member Paul Goldman, Member Craig Musselman (Rye Board of Selectman), Member Kathy Errecart (RES parent). Members not present: Andrea Papoutsy (music teacher, Rye Elementary School), Jeanne Moynahan (School Board).
Also present and sitting in the audience: Rye Elementary School Principal Suzanne Lull.
Persons present from the public included: Lief Honda, Ray Jarvis
Editor’s note: For ease in finding particular sections using the archived video and audio on the Town website, the elapsed time is indicated. Use the slider and the elapsed time indicated at the bottom of the video window to fast forward to the desired section. Videos on the Town website may currently be accessed at www.town.rye.nh.us by clicking on “Town Hall Streaming” at the bottom left of the screen. Follow the link for “Town Hall Live Streaming,” then find the meeting by date under “Previous.”
The video starts at 8:30:11 a.m. (0:00 elapsed).
Minutes (3:00 elapsed)
Approved with no changes. All in favor.
Enrollment and demographic trends (3:27 elapsed)
Co-Chairman Paula Tsetsilas provided an overview of the information gathered over the past five weeks. She stated that Rye Elementary School has a current enrollment of 280 students, with a capacity of 400 students, and Rye Junior High has a current enrollment of 151 students, with a capacity of 280 students. Between 2011 and the 2019 projection, there is a projected decrease of 156 students, or about 30 percent. Between 2000 and 2015 the number of Rye children decreased 38 percent while residents 65 and older increased 70 percent, based on information from Peter Francese, an Exeter demographer. She provided additional data for Rockingham County and stated that New Hampshire and Vermont are tied for the status of being the oldest states in the nation.
Member Kathy Errecart then presented additional information, referring to charts and graphs that she had prepared. She stated that a scatter plot of live birth data compared to kindergarten enrollments indicated that the former does not predict the latter. Only three percent of the variation in kindergarten enrollments is predicted by the live birth data, she said.
Ms. Errecart stated that, up until 5-7 years ago, Rye was experiencing the “baby boom echo” from children of the baby boomers enrolling. However, beginning 5-7 years ago, Rye diverged from the national cycle. Durham, Exeter and Greenland actually experienced increases, she said.
Member Paul Goldman referred to kindergarten through grade 5 being almost flat on a graph.
Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas asked SAU 50 Business Manager Jim Katkin whether his data accounted for those moving into Rye. Mr. Katkin responded by referring to the 3 and 5 year weighted averages used in arriving at his projections. He argued that there was only a 10 percent variation between his projections for enrollment and what actually transpired. Editor’s note: Mr. Katkin was apparently referring to the “Cohort Survival Method” charts that have been part of each year’s School District budget for a number of years. These data were also apparently provided to the Committee. These projections essentially assume that the students in any particular grade, times a multiplier, are those that end up in the next grade the following year. The multiplier between sixth and seventh grade is typically more than 100 percent as the influx of seventh graders from New Castle results in an increase. Conversely, the multiplier between eighth and ninth grade is typically less than 100 percent as some percentage of eighth graders go on to private schools.
Member and Selectman Musselman said that the analysis was well done. It clearly shows that property values have been preventing younger families from moving to Rye. This cannot be expected to change, he said.
Member Marc Sedan said that the 2011-2016 decline is similar to that from 1982-1987, yet after the latter, peak enrollment was achieved five years later. People are still moving to Rye and the population is growing, but not that of school age children. He spoke about a massive shift to the New Hampshire Seacoast from Manchester and Nashua of persons with higher education. The age five to age fourteen population has been dropping like a rock since the 1990s. He also spoke about competitiveness of the schools and families with school age children sending them to private schools.
Member Peggy Balboni spoke about the increasing use of private schools when the economy is good and the potential increase in the high school tuition budget if those moving to Rye have older children.
It appeared agreed that the live birth data would be used despite its lack of suitability as a predictive factor.
Member Doran Morford spoke about the need to sell school quality. Previously, only private schools needed to do that.
Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that she had spoken to the Center for Public Policy. She was told that, unless there are significant economic changes, the trends will continue. Candia and Oyster River went through a similar process to that which Rye is now going through.
Member Marc Sedan spoke about the impressive changes occurring on the Seacoast in terms of attracting highly-educated people. Companies are choosing the Seacoast over Manchester and Nashua due to that.
Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that data had been obtained on Greenland’s capacity. There is enough space for their own needs, but not enough to provide for Rye Junior High students. The possibility of Newington students coming to Rye does not appear feasible due to the difficulty of busing. She expressed concern about 30 students per grade level at Rye Junior High. That would be too small to be viable, particularly in terms of providing participants for sports teams and school plays, she said. She raised the possibility of a three year program to increase enrollment, followed by tuitioning to Portsmouth Junior High if that does not succeed.
There was discussion about the kindergarten programs in Greenland, Newington and New Castle and the fact that Greenland will be going to full-day kindergarten.
Member Kathy Errecart spoke about New Castle having even fewer school age children than Rye.
Member Marc Sedan spoke about positive changes since Marie Soucy became principal at Rye Junior High, but the folklore about issues remaining forever.
Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that the School Board is working hard on the perception issue.
Member Doran Morford spoke about 30 children per grade being a challenge. Portsmouth Junior High has more to offer. The small size is a harder sell for the children, he said.
Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas provided information and departures to private schools among the Rye Junior High cohort. She said that it is an average about 8 children per year; thus there are a total of 24 children that might return. She said that there would be sufficient capacity to accommodate them.
Member Kathy Errecart spoke about the need to survey those who left. Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that the issue should be saved until a School Board meeting.
Space needs (65:43 elapsed)
Member and Selectman Musselman went through the town office needs. He referred to four years of unsuccessful planning for town space. Editor’s note: It has actually been six years since AG Architects concluded, in 2011, that the Town Hall building was structurally sound and worth renovating. The Recreation Department has moved out of Town Hall and the Sewer Department has moved to Rye Beach. The space need has thus been reduced to 8000 sq. ft. as long as large meetings and elections can continue to be held at the schools, he said.
Member Gregg Mikolaities spoke about Recreation space needs. They have 1800 participants in their programs, conducted at 12 locations in Rye and New Castle. He summarized four issues, including storage needs (something regarding this will likely appear on the warrant next year) and the After School Program, which has 45 children participating and requires two classrooms at Rye Elementary School.
The discussion then turned to the space used by the SAU offices. Superintendent Petralia said that there are 11 persons who work there. Business Manager Jim Katkin estimated that the space occupied was slightly more than 1700 sq. ft. It is leased by the SAU from the Greenland School District for $24,000 annual rent. There is also an adjacent garage used for storage that is not included in the square footage.
Member Kathy Errecart asked whether the warrant article requires them to do a cost/benefit analysis of merging the two buildings.
Superintendent Petralia then spoke about changes with the SAU 50 pre-school program. Students with special needs must be accommodated from age 3 through age 21 according to State law. There are currently 12 identified students for the pre-school, with the potential for 5 more. In the past several years, these have been accommodated at the Greenland Central School. However, as Greenland is going to full day kindergarten, there is no longer room. Also, the SAU is proposing that the relationship with the Seacoast Community School in Portsmouth be dissolved. This will come before the September meeting of the SAU 50 board. The Rye School Board has accepted moving the pre-school program to the Rye Elementary School. It has previously been there, as well as in New Castle, he said.
There was discussion about the use of an additional classroom for that. Member Gregg Mikolaities expressed concern about the impact on the After School Program and whether they could continue to offer it. Recreation Director Lee Arthur will be meeting with the principal about this, he said. Rye Elementary School Principal Suzanne Lull stated that there should be no problem.
Public comment (90:45 elapsed)
Leif Honda, husband of School Board Member Margaret Honda said that, once downsizing has occurred, it would not be possible to increase enrollments quickly in the future. In the future, there will be more technology in the classroom. He said that he is also involved with cancer clusters. Statistically, there is no cancer cluster. Politically there is. New parents may say that they will not bring their children to Rye. Older people may not care. There are not enough facilities in the winter. Children must be sent to Portsmouth Christian Academy or the Connie Bean Center to play sports. That is very expensive. When students are tuitioned to other towns, control is lost, he said.
Ray Jarvis said that, while there are a lot of good ideas, data and logical thought, there is a danger of accepting faulty hypotheses. Trends may not continue. We have a dysfunctional federal government. The economic “blip” is not shared nationwide. Things could implode. The school population in 1983 to 1993 plummeted to below what it is now. Smaller is not necessarily worse. Mr. Jarvis spoke about an increase from 361 students to more than 600.
Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that this was due to the baby boomers children. Students were housed in trailers, she said.
Next steps (108:11 elapsed)
Member and Selectman Musselman spoke about the need for more meetings.
Co-chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that she would like to invite two realtors to a meeting to provide feedback on who is buying homes in Rye.
Member and Selectman Musselman spoke about the possibility of Rye Junior High accommodating only seventh and eighth grades to provide more room for town offices. Member Peggy Balboni said that that is a decision for the School Board, not the Committee.
Member Kathy Errecart again raised the issue of doing more analysis of the consolidation option. Business Manager Jim Katkin spoke about the enormous cost of constructing additional buildings. Member Gregg Mikolaities spoke about using capital cost information from the Town Hall and Recreation proposals.
After discussion, it was decided that future meetings will be on August 31, September 14, October 12, and October 26. The last one would be open for public comment. The meetings would all be from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
The meeting then adjourned at approximately 10:38 a.m.