NOTES OF AUGUST 31, 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 Sedam (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, Rye Junior High Principal Marie Soucy, School Board Chairman Scott Marion (arrived late), Rye Town Administrator Michael Magnant.
Persons present from the public included: Peter Crawford.
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2. Rye Junior High School enrollment, as of the start of the 2017-2018 school year is 134, 12 fewer than projected in the budget. The sixth grade class is 45 students, compared to 60 in the 2016-2017 fifth grade. The decline is attributed to private school attendance and families moving out of town. All space is currently utilized, according to the Principal.
3. Rye Elementary School attendance, as of the start of the 2017-2018 school year is 275, 13 more than projected in the budget, largely due to a Kindergarten enrollment of 50 vs. 38 projected using live birth data from five years earlier. All space is currently utilized, according to the Principal.
4. The total enrollment of 409 is only nine more students than the stated Rye Elementary School capacity, raising the importance of accurate enrollment projections in considering the school consolidation option, according to one resident.
Minutes (0:36 elapsed)
Approved with no changes. All in favor.
Chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that she had spoken with two realtors. Based on the information that they provided, she did not feel it necessary to invite them to the meeting. She had anticipated that the aging population would be resulting in more inventory and more families moving into town, however that does not appear to be the case. The market is stable in terms of listings. Only 30 percent of property buyers have families with children, the realtors indicated. The remainder are retirees, purchasing a second home, or are couples without children, she said.
Consolidation reports review (3:25 elapsed)
Chairman Paula Tsetsilas said that she had uploaded to the Committee’s shared file information from the New Hampshire School Board Association. One was on school consolidation from the Center on Policy Studies. The other was a doctoral thesis by Bob St. Cyr, who is a Principal in Candia. He looked at the decision-making process during declines in enrollment, she said.
The latter underscored the work of the Committee. The process and obtaining town buy-in is very important, she said.
There was additional discussion on identifying options to pursue. Selectman and Member Musselman said that judgment on the conclusion should be withheld as he is not convinced that any of the alternatives warrants further study.
Schedule of future meetings
September 14, 2017 Committee meeting
October 12, 2017 Committee meeting
October 26, 2017 Town-wide meeting to share findings
November 9, 2017 Follow-up meeting that will result in final report*
* This meeting may have been moved to November 16, 2017 to avoid a conflict.
1. Limit Rye Junior High School to 7th and 8th grades to free up space for town offices
2. Increase class sizes (Selectman Musselman noted that the schools are at half capacity, but every classroom in both schools is designated for a purpose). Chairman Tsetsilas said that a class size standard was already in place and should be worked within. Co-Chairman Peggy Balboni noted that there is an upper limit of 20 per class)
Member Errecart noted that the studies have shown that savings come from combining smaller districts, not schools.
Business Manager Jim Katkin disagreed, saying that Rye’s cost per student is $20,000, while Colebrook is at $10,000. He spoke about the Rye Junior High enrollment having dropped from 220 to 150 over the past few years, and the Rye Elementary School enrollment having dropped from 350 to 275. The district is not in a position to be increasing students at this time, he said.
Marc Sedam disagreed, saying enrollment came screaming back before.
Ms. Soucy cautioned against confusing the capacity and enrollment issues. Currently, all of their space is utilized. She explained how the students travel in “pods” and how certain classes are “off team.” She provided the latest enrollment data based on the start of the new school year earlier in the week:
Actual Projected in 2017-2018 budget*
Sixth grade 45 55
Seventh grade 46 47
Eighth grade 43 44
Total* 134 146
*Editor’s note: The figures in italics were not provided by Ms. Soucy. They are either calculations from the data for the three grades, or appeared in the 2017-2018 budget projections, Five Year Weighted Average, Cohort Survival method. According to the most recent School District annual report, there were 60 students in fifth grade as of October 1, 2016, indicating a drop of 15 students in that cohort, between fifth and sixth grades, or 25 percent.
Ms. Soucy said that this was less than had been anticipated. A few more kids were lost, she said.
Member and Selectman Musselman asked whether all of the classrooms are used all day. Ms. Soucy said that some classrooms are not utilized during the two classes per day when students are “off team.”
Member Mikolaities said that he had heard of a projection of 151 students, and asked how it could have been off by 17 students. Ms. Soucy referred to students attending private schools. Superintendent Petralia said that the District has survey data on most students who chose not to attend. Three or four did not respond. Some relocated out of state, he said. Editor’s note: Later in the meeting it was revealed that 151 was the enrollment for the 2016-2017 school year, not the projected 2017-2018 enrollment.
Member and Selectman Musselman said that he knows Heronfield well. Rye Junior High cannot compete with it. However, it is expensive, and if the economy dives the students may return. Editor’s note: Heronfield Academy in Hampton Falls has been cited as the most popular private school choice for junior-high age students attending private schools.
School Board Chairman Scott Marion, speaking from the audience, disagreed. He said that Rye Junior High sends more students to Exeter than Heronfield. He stated that he has nieces and nephews at Heronfield.
Ms. Soucy cautioned against losing more students to private schools if class sizes are increased.
Co-Chairman Tsetsilas asked about the frequency of use of classrooms designated “Discovery,” “Maker” and “STEM.”
Ms. Souncy said that Social Studies space had been changed to a teacher work room. Editor’s note: Approximately two years ago, Social Studies was eliminated as a subject area taught by separate teachers. Now, the Math, Science and Language Arts teachers split the duties of teaching Social Studies.
Superintendent Petralia explained how the shop teacher had retired and the space used by the shop had been reconfigured for use by Robin Elwood, who took over STEM-related teaching. Editor’s note: STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Member Morford said that constraining the space would constrain the agility of the organization.
Co-Chairman Balboni said that, when her children were students, class sizes were almost double what they are now. It would be possible to increase class sizes, but that would change the way that services are delivered, she said.
Member Sedam said that, if Ms. Soucy had not made the changes that she has made, his children would not be in the Rye schools.
Member and Selectman Musselman said that he is not pushing consolidation, but it is important to look at alternatives from the Town’s perspective. By November, we need to know whether it is worth keeping that on the agenda. He said they need to know what it would take to free up 10,000 sq. ft. Freeing up 2000 sq. ft. does not solve the problem. If it is not possible to free up 10,000 sq. ft. for Town offices, we will need to move in a different direction, he said.
Ms. Lull stated that they currently have 275 students. Editor’s note: The projection for grades K-5 for the 2017-2018 school year in the budget for that year, Five Year Weighted Average, Cohort Survival Method, was 262 students.
Ms. Lull then described the utilization of each room, by number. The only grade with only two classes is fourth grade. However, in two years, it will be necessary to add a class, she said.
Co-Chairman Tsetsilas noted that 38 students was projected for the incoming Kindergarten class, however, it turned out to be 50 students.
Mr. Mikolaities referred to a projection of 280 students, but it turned out to be 275, he said. He said that there are 409 students as of today, but the capacity is 680 students. That is a real number. He referred to space needs for Town Hall, Recreation, the Library and Public Safety. Editor’s note: Mr. Mikolaities is apparently referring to the capacity figures of 280 for Rye Junior High and 400 for Rye Elementary School disclosed at the August 3, 2017 meeting. The 409 students is apparently the sum of the 134 students at Rye Junior High School and 275 students at Rye Elementary School.
Business Administrator Katkin referred to the progression ratios, and there being a five year gap between birth and Kindergarten enrollment. In the interim, families move in and out of town. However, once the enrollment is known, that figure is used for subsequent years, he said.
Ms. Tsetsilas raised the possibility of an enrollment rebound based on the better than expected Kindergarten enrollment.
Ms. Errecart said that that would make sense if projecting out 15 years.
Mr. Katkin said that projections only go out five years, as there is otherwise nothing to start with. Editor’s note: Apparently this is because Kindergartners have not yet been born, so there is no live birth data to use.
Member and Selectman Musselman said that he would like to see an assessment of what would happen if sixth grade is moved to Rye Elementary School. He also said that he heard that 60 fifth graders had graduated. That means a drop of nearly 17 to the 43 students in the sixth grade, he said.
Ms. Tsetsilas said that the current eighth grade cohort includes 20 percent that did not continue from Rye Elementary School to Rye Junior High School. The School Board is trying to increase the rigor to deal with this, she said.
Ms. Lull referred to six students having moved out of town.
School Board Chairman Scott Marion referred to State standards for class sizes of 25 at elementary schools and 30 at middle schools. Those are both larger numbers than our guidelines, he said.
Further discussion and enumeration of options (86:17 elapsed)
The following options were listed without detailed discussion:
1. Use more space at Rye Elementary School for Recreation needs
2. Locate the Recreation After School Program at Rye Junior High School
3. Staus quo
4. Grades K-4 at Rye Elementary School, 5-8 at Rye Junior High School, increasing room for Recreation programs
5. Tuition out to Portsmouth
Member Errecart mentioned Rye’s “solid” Special Education program.
There was discussion about conducting site visits to the two Rye schools, as well as the Greenland Central School to see how K-8 in one building could work.
Member Sedam referred to arriving at a figure as to how much space could be freed up without changing the programs.
Member and Selectman Musselman said that that is the wrong question. If 8500-10000 sq. ft. cannot be freed up, there is no need to know the answer as that is how much is needed to be viable. Editor’s note: He was apparently referring to the space need for Town Offices, assuming all of the offices move to Rye Junior High School.
Member and Selectman Musselman then said that he had looked at Rye Junior High with Mr. Mikolaities. The space is easily separated, but that would require moving the athletic field into the woods to provide traffic access.
Member Balboni said that that was not possible as the Wedgewood land could not be used for that purpose. Editor’s note: This is land, adjacent to Rye Junior High School, some of which was purchased (funded by donations), and some of which was donated. This land was acquired by the School District in the past few years.
Public input (115:44 elapsed)
Peter Crawford said that he was not hearing what was happening with enrollment, which is one of the key tasks of the Committee. He said that he is hearing that projections more than five years out cannot be done, because the children that are going to be in Kindergarten have not yet been born.
He said that, at the last meeting, he heard that there is no correlation between the live births and the Kindergarten enrollment five years later, but the data is still going to be used. He said that that makes no sense to him. He suggested that the Kindergarten enrollment be projected based on historical data. Obviously what is happening is that a lot of people are moving into town between the births of their children and the time that they start Kindergarten. That’s how, five years ago, there were 37 live births, 38 Kindergarten enrollees were projected, but 50 actually enrolled, he said.
A better job needs to be done, and that needs to drive the decision on consolidation of the schools. We are now within nine students of the capacity to do that. He said that he had heard that there are 275 students at Rye Elementary School and 134 at Rye Junior High School, a total of 409. Capacity at Rye Elementary School alone is 400. He said that he understands that the space is not totally fungible and that it couldn’t be done without some additional construction. He asked how low is the enrollment going to go, and how close we are to being able to put everything at Rye Elementary School with some fairly minor construction expenditures. That is the key question to be answered, and I don’t see that coming out of the Committee discussions, he said.
Co-Chairman Tsetsilas said that, at the last meeting, there was discussion through 2026 and discussion of whether having 35 students in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth grades would make sense, and whether, at that point it would make sense to tuition out to be fiscally responsible. She said that she struggled herself with using the live birth data for enrollment. She referred to the Kindergarten enrollment of 50 this year and added that they need to be flexible. We are seeing an upward trend, she said.
Mr. Crawford said that it is not a trend, and that random fluctuations of 10-15 students are to be expected all of the time, but that doesn’t mean anything.
Member Errecart said that the enrollment data is critical. She said that she had studied the data carefully, but there are so many different factors affecting enrollment. The live births don’t seem to have any correlation. We are operating in the realm of uncertainty which is difficult, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot plan for the future. There is not any way to get a more accurate prediction, because it cannot be based on live births and there is no other place to start from, she said.
Mr. Crawford referred to a State law that permits a census of the residents, which has not been done for 20 or 30 years in Rye. Editor’s note: This may have been repealed. See RSA 189:38. At a minimum, an optional survey could be done, asking for the numbers of children and the ages, he said. Now, there is a five year gap. People are moving in with children that are one, two or three years old. That is not in the live birth data, but we can do better if we get that data, he said.
Co-Chairman Tsetsilas agreed that that would be better. Mr. Crawford referred to an error of 12 children.
Member Errecart said that the perceptions of the families and the choices made from fifth grade onward are also very important. That is a pretty major force, she said.
Mr. Crawford said that the issue there is whether the trend is going to reverse. He said that he had looked at third through fifth graders and compared them with Rye Junior High enrollments three years later, which is the same cohort of students. The percentage is now down to 80 percent. It was previously right around 100 percent, although it would go up and down. There will always be move ins and move outs that will cause random fluctuations, he said. I’ve gone back to 1990 and there has never been a situation where it has been this low before, he said.
Superintendent Petralia said that they would be looking monthly at the enrollment figures.
Member Mikolaities said that they are seeing the same trends with the Recreation programs. Rye parents can afford private school choices and they can send their children to Seacoast United for $3000 per year starting in first grade. We also do polling of why the children are not attending Recreation programs. They can afford these costs, he said.
School Board Chairman Scott Marion thanked the Committee for its work. He said that Mr. Crawford keeps citing these data, but they are incorrect. Editor’s note: Mr. Crawford’s enrollment data is based on simple calculations using data taken directly from the School District annual reports. We have always had children go to private schools since Berwick has been open, four or five children, Mr. Marion said. Heronfield has added to that. Back in 2009-2010 when portfolios were not as robust, there were fewer students going to private schools. He acknowledged issues at Rye Junior High during that time frame, which, combined with “soccer field chatter,” contributed to the trend. I am convinced that we have turned things around at the Junior High, he said.
The space need is not linear, there are some fixed space requirements, he said.
I have examined Mr. Katkin’s projections, he said. While the error rate is larger than we would like, the data are not systematically biased downward or upward, he said.
I am in favor of exploring these alternatives and have no problem with other uses at Rye Junior High School. I’m not sure why 10,000 sq. ft. is the magic number, however, he said. Selected functions could be moved, he said.
I’m not a proponent of extremely small classes. I work in the education field and wrote a paper on that, he said. Quality is driven by teacher quality and principal quality. That is where we are putting our energy now. We don’t need class sizes of ten, he said.
Mr. Marion said that the Committee need not come up with a single recommendation, as the report will be turned over to the School Board to make the final decision.
I honestly think that there is space that can be freed up, Mr. Marion said. We are holding off on capital expenditures at Rye Junior High School, including in energy systems, until we know what’s going on, he said.
Our biggest cost is personnel. Saving $100,000 for a principal (with benefits in addition) over a $14 million does not amount to much. Teachers are still needed, he said.
Member and Selectman Musselman said that to make the Junior High School work it must be safe, which means it must be cordoned off. There is a major capital expense to change the traffic flow and athletic fields. If we back up to a smaller space, the cost savings might not be sufficient to justify the expenditure. Hundreds of thousands of dollars would be needed. It might not work, but it is worth thinking about, he said.
Whereupon the meeting adjourned at approximately 10:16 a.m.