School Board Questions BOE Decision, Ponders Next Steps

The White Mountains Regional School Board will continue to accept public comment on a proposed transgender student policy through its next meeting on Aug. 12. They are expected to vote whether to approve the policy on Aug. 26. (File photo by Paul Hayes)

Officials in the White Mountains Regional School District want answers after the state Board of Education ordered a ballot vote on the Town of Carroll’s withdrawal plan.

WMRSD rejected the plan in June, based on the recommendation of a study committee, but Carroll filed a minority report with the state, which the Board of Education approved following a public hearing on Nov. 10.

Carroll representatives appeared in-person at the public hearing to make their case; WMRSD official were not notified, did not attend, and their majority report was not considered.

“I was shocked,” said School Board Member Bob Loiacono. “I think the Board of Education approved an incomplete withdrawal plan that was presented by the Town of Carroll. And now they’re forcing the voters to vote on an incomplete plan.”

Carroll wants to leave the school district due to disagreements over the apportionment formula. The town accounts for 6 percent of students and 26 percent of taxpayer contribution to the school district.

They seek to form an independent K-12 school district and enter into tuition agreements with neighboring school districts in Franconia (Lafayette Regional Elementary) and Bethlehem (Profile Middle/High School).

LEGAL QUESTIONS

Meeting on Monday, WMRSD officials pondered their next move.

School board members, Herb Randall and Chair Greg Odell said the Board of Education failed to follow the decision-making process as outlined by state statute, legal opinions, and communications from the state Department of Education.

“It is concerning to me that the various opinions we got didn’t match what happened,” said Randall.

Odell recommended that legal counsel review the Board of Education decision, to determine its legitimacy.

“It would seem as though the state board misstepped, so the question becomes: Did they have jurisdiction or authority? Why did they only invite one party?” he asked. “It needs to be reviewed legally to see if what they did can stand. Because it might not.”

In addition to questions over legality, school board members and district officials said Carroll presented inaccurate information to win approval from the Board of Education.

For instance, claims that Carroll families support withdrawal are false, and are contradicted by a WMRSD survey done earlier this year, said Superintendent Marion Anastasia.

The survey shows that Carroll families “overwhelmingly” wanted their children to remain in WMRSD schools, she said.

WARRANT ARTICLE

The warrant article will require majority approval from the entire cooperative school district (Carroll, Dalton, Jefferson, Lancaster and Whitefield).

Most expect that it will be unsuccessful. However, it brings the matter a step closer to the courts.

If the warrant article fails the district but passes the town, Carroll can return to the Board of Education to pursue the next steps. Carroll has increased its legal budget in anticipation of a multi-year contested withdrawal.

School Board Member Kristen van Bergen-Buteau said the school district should plan accordingly to avoid surprise legal costs.

Others recommended that WMRSD appeal directly to Carroll voters, to win their approval and stop the process.

“If this doesn’t pass in Carroll, that would be the end of it,” Loiacono said.

He offered two talking points aimed at Carroll residents.

First, he said, the town’s claims that withdrawal would provide tax relief were overstated.

“The average taxpayer in Carroll isn’t going to see much savings [if withdrawal is approved],” he said. “So who’s going to save? The people that own the second [homes] and million-dollar homes at Bretton Woods are the only ones that are going to save any money, and they’re not sending their kids to our schools.”

Second, he said, Carroll families would lose say in their children’s education.

“If this were enacted, the students in Carroll would have no say, no school board representation for the schools that they are talking about sending them to. They will have no say in the curriculum. No say in anything,” Loiacono said. “And as for tuitioning students to Lafayette and Profile, they’d be subject to the whims of the district that they’re going to. The tuition might be set for one year, but it could be changed at any time at the whim of those schools. Carroll students may end up going to different schools every couple of years, who knows?”

APPORTIONMENT COMMITTEE

Meanwhile, efforts to look at the way the school district is funded will move ahead.

In January, Carroll submitted a warrant article to change the WMRSD apportionment formula. It would have de-emphasized property values and saved the town $1 million per year.

The school board tabled the proposal, due to the tight timeline before town meeting. But on Oct. 28 they established a committee to look into the matter. It was to include three school board members, two administrators, and an unspecified number of community representatives.

Those efforts will continue despite the Board of Education decision.

Van Bergen-Buteau called the “apportionment committee” a good-faith effort to address Carroll’s concerns, and said it should continue as a parallel effort.

“I don’t think we should put down the apportionment question, because that’s what originally came to us and we agreed ‘Yes, it’s worth looking at,’” she said.

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