State Board Orders School Withdrawal Vote

Attorney Dean Eggert, at left, and Ben Jellison represent the Town of Carroll at a New Hampshire Board of Education meeting on Nov. 10. The state board ordered the White Mountains Regional School District to hold a vote on the town's withdrawal plan.

Will the Town of Carroll withdraw from the White Mountains Regional School District?

Voters will decide.

The New Hampshire Board of Education this month ordered that the withdrawal question be placed on the ballot, overriding the school district’s wishes.

A warrant article would require majority approval from the entire cooperative school district (Carroll, Dalton, Jefferson, Lancaster and Whitefield), as well as Carroll.

District officials declined comment on the matter, which will be discussed at the next school board meeting on Monday, Nov. 22.

The town’s attorney, Dean Eggert, of Manchester, appeared before the Board of Education on Nov. 10 and argued for a ballot vote, on the basis that WMRSD’s apportionment formula is unfair and has not been revisited since its creation in 1963.

Carroll accounts for 6 percent of students and 26 percent of taxpayer contribution to the school district.

The Board of Education signaled strong support for the town.

The state board unanimously approved Carroll’s request and Chairman Drew Cline expressed shock at the town’s $46,000 per pupil cost.

“That is more than the day tuition at Phillips Exeter Academy. It’s astronomical,” Cline said, adding, “I don’t think Carroll would enter into this contract if these numbers were proposed today.”

Attorney Eggert admitted that voter approval was unlikely.

However, even an unsuccessful vote allows Carroll to proceed with the withdrawal process. If a warrant article fails the district, but passes the town, Carroll can return to the Board of Education to pursue the next step, as set by state law.

Carroll increased its legal budget last year in anticipation of a multi-year contested withdrawal. Conversations at that time suggested the matter would likely be settled through the courts.

“Part of the process is to exhaust all of the statutory opportunities,” Eggert said.

Meanwhile, if the warrant article passes, Carroll would assume responsibility for the education of its pupils on July 1, 2023. The town currently has 59 school-aged children.

Carroll wants 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).

HOW IT HAPPENED

Fed up with hefty education expenses, Carroll formed a School Study Committee in early 2020. The committee worked nine months and recommended two warrant articles, which were accepted by the Select Board.

One warrant article would have gone to voters of the five-town district. It would have changed the apportionment formula from 60/40 (enrollment/valuation) to 8/20, in order to de-emphasize property values and save Carroll $1 million per year.

When the school board tabled that proposal in January 2021, Carroll proceeded with the second warrant article to initiate the withdrawal. Carroll Town Meeting voters approved it, 214-58.

That triggered a multi-step process, starting with the formation of the 10-member Carroll Withdrawal Committee, made up of one school board member and one select board member from each White Mountains Regional School District community (Carroll, Dalton, Jefferson, Lancaster and Whitefield).

The Carroll Withdrawal Committee was charged with evaluating the educational justification for withdrawal. Finding none, they recommended against it 4-1, with Carroll Selectman Rob Gauthier in dissent.

The school board unanimously accepted the Carroll Withdrawal Committee’s 97-page report and recommendation.

Hoping to overturn that decision, Gauthier filed a 10-page minority report with the state Board of Education, asking that the proposed withdrawal be approved and a Town Meeting vote be authorized.

In the minority report, Gauthier said, “Carroll has never sought withdrawal as its first option. Instead, Carroll’s persistent and years’-long requests for reconsideration of the 1963 apportionment formula are evidence of its wish to remain in the WMRSD, and yet to do so in the context of a more balanced and contemporary funding formula.”

He added, “The town of Carroll has never suggested that the cost of its withdrawal would be insignificant or uncomplicated. That is why it has never led with that possibility in any of its many attempts to have a fair and honest conversation about its challenges. However, patience and fairness have their limits, and Carroll deserves a better consideration of its financial challenges than what it has received from the WMRSD these past 17 years.”

Meanwhile, the door remains open for compromise.

When the Carroll Withdrawal Committee recommended against withdrawal in June, they also unanimously recommended that the school board re-examine the WMRSD apportionment formula and the changes proposed by Carroll in January.

The School Board established a committee to do so on Oct. 28 and appointed board members, James Murphy (Carroll), Herb Randall (Lancaster) and Gregory Odell (Dalton), along with Superintendent Marion Anastasia and Finance Director Kris Franklin.

Community members will also be appointed.

There is currently no timeline for when the committee will begin work, or report out.

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To view the N.H. Board of Education meeting on Nov. 10 visit: https://vimeo.com/646768778

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