WHITEFIELD — Truck traffic and child safety were discussed during the White Mountains Regional SAU 36 School Board meeting on Monday evening.
John Swan, of Dalton, a vocal opponent of a proposed landfill by Forest Lake, warned that trash-hauling routes would divert 100 tractor trailers past Whitefield Elementary School on a daily basis, posing a threat to students, parents and staff.
He asked the school board to weigh in.
“It’s your job as school board members to do what’s best for the children,” he said.
However, faced with pressing educational issues, school board members hesitated to commit time and resources to the matter.
SAU 36 must switch from a two-day hybrid learning model to a five-day in-person model by April 19, under order of Gov. Chris Sununu, and they must convene a study committee to review Carroll’s proposed withdrawal from the district by May 8.
“We have two significantly important education-related issues in front of us, with definite time clocks attached to them,” said School Board Member Kristen Van Bergen, advising the board not to “embark on a significant study regarding the traffic route.”
School Board Member Herb Randall concurred.
“It seems like it’s not really school board business, because there are all the other things we have on our plate right now,” he said.
Ultimately, the School Board referred the matter to its Facilities Committee for further review.
That decision was preceded by spirited public debate, with some in attendance disputing Swan’s claims.
Scott Kleinschrodt, of Dalton, a past school board member, accused Swan of promoting “conspiracy theories” and “fear mongering.”
“I am concerned that an individual is trying to engage the school board into a political battle that will no doubt muddy your reputation,” he said. “All we have here is an individual who is trying to throw mud on every wall he can trying to see where it might stick.”
Dave Leonard of Whitefield, a professional truck driver with more than 25 years and 2 million “accident free” miles to his credit, took offense to claims that trained, licensed commercial drivers were “a danger” to public health.
Noting that he and his wife have 10 grandchildren, he said he was concerned for student safety, but said the number of trucks and the threat they posed were being exaggerated. He said existing traffic constituted a greater risk, noting that impatient motorists have illegally passed him while he has driven trucks through Whitefield.
“[Those motorists are] more of a threat than a professional driver that bases their income on abiding by the safety rules,” he said.
Despite those criticisms, Swan stood his ground.
He said his truck traffic projections were pulled from state Department of Transportation studies, and countered that Kleinschrodt was a landfill supporter whose bottom line concern was the tax rate.
“I hate to see my work misconstrued by somebody who has his own personal agenda, especially a financial agenda, whereas mine is purely altruistic for the love of the North Country and the North Country environment,” he said.
School Board Vice Chair James Brady, who heads the facilities committee, said traffic issues at Whitefield Elementary were worthy of discussion, regardless of the proposed landfill’s fate.
Those issues are the result of traffic patterns, traffic volume, street crossings, and a lack of sidewalks in the area of the school, including sections of Route 3, Route 116 and Kings Square.
“I think the problem exists now whether there’s any more traffic or not,” Brady said.
Whitefield Elementary Principal Mike Cronin, who has been affiliated with the school for “well over 15 years,” noted that few students currently walk to the school.
He estimated that only a couple did so on a daily basis, and another did so intermittently.
“Historically, Whitefield School is not a walkable school because of the location. We do not see many, if any, students walk to Whitefield School,” he said.
The formation of the Carroll Withdrawal Committee is underway.
The 10-member committee will include two representatives (a School Board and a Select Board member) from each SAU 36 community.
The School Board representation is set: James Murphy (Carroll), Greg Odell (Dalton), James Brady (Jefferson), Herb Randall (Lancaster), and Robert Loiacono (Whitefield).
Town appointees will be finalized by April 13.
The Withdrawal Committee will review Carroll’s proposed exit from the regional school district. Under law, they must meet by May 8. They will have 180 days to submit a recommendation to the state Board of Education, unless more time is requested.
Carroll Town Meeting voted to initiate the withdrawal process last month. They are seeking to leave the district because of dissatisfaction with the apportionment formula.
Second-dose vaccine clinics were held for SAU 36 staff on Saturday, and those employees should be fully protected from COVID-19 by April 17.
Lisa Miller, the district COVID coordinator, called it “a huge step in the right direction to keeping staff and students healthy.”
Meanwhile, with New Hampshire expanding vaccination eligibility to ages 16 and over, some White Mountains Regional High School juniors and seniors have secured vaccination appointments.
Miller called the news “incredibly exciting.”
Although there have been “disturbing trends” with variants of COVID spreading and case numbers rising, Miller said the pace of vaccinations — approximately 3 million per day — was reason for optimism.
FIVE DAYS A WEEK
In compliance with the governor’s order, the White Mountains Regional School District is preparing to open its schools full time.
Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu ordered all New Hampshire schools to resume in-person learning five days a week by April 19.
SAU 36, which has used a two-day hybrid learning schedule since September, has leapt into action. Various district committees (communications, facilities, health, instruction, transportation, technology, social emotional learning, and food service) will meet over the next week-and-a-half to develop a comprehensive plan.
Committees will report out recommendations to SAU 36 administration.
Meanwhile teachers will be given a planning day on Wednesday, April 14, to prepare their classrooms for full-time learning.
More details will be announced as plans develop, according to SAU 36 officials.
NEW MEETING SCHEDULE
The SAU 36 School Board will no longer meet on Mondays.
Moving forward, they will meet on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, in order to avoid scheduling conflicts with municipal board meetings (Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, etc.).