WMRSD Appeal Denied, Carroll Withdrawal Headed To Vote

The Town of Carroll's plan to withdraw from the White Mountains Regional School District will go to voters at the annual meeting in March. It was ordered by the state Board of Education in Novemeber, and the school district's motion to reconsider was denied by the state board on Thursday, Jan. 13. (File photo by Paul Hayes)

The Town of Carroll’s bid to withdraw from the White Mountains Regional School District will proceed as planned.

The state Board of Education on Thursday stood by their Nov. 10 decision — that the withdrawal question go to voters in the five-town cooperative school district — and denied a motion to reconsider brought by WMRSD.

Appearing in Concord, WMRSD representatives argued that the state board had approved Carroll’s request on the basis of erroneous and misleading information, and without reading a lengthy 97-page report on the matter produced by the school district.

However, the state board determined that the facts were secondary, and that Carroll had checked all of the legal boxes for a ballot vote.

Drew Cline, Chairman of the state board, said fact-checking and voter education were local responsibilities, to be handled at the deliberative session on Feb. 7.

“I think that’s fair,” Cline said.

That means the town and the school district will attempt to sell their viewpoints to the public in the coming weeks.

Carroll wants to withdraw because they feel WMRSD’s apportionment is unfair, with the town accounting for 6 percent of students and 26 percent of taxpayer contribution to the school district.

WMRSD officials have responded that comparably priced properties pay the same tax bills across the district, and Carroll’s per-pupil cost is skewed by multimillion-dollar resort and vacation properties.

Voters will draw their own conclusions, and make their decision at the ballot box on Tuesday, March 8.

MAKING THEIR CASE

Representatives of the White Mountains Regional School District and the Town of Carroll each made the 90-mile drive to Granite State College in Concord to address the state board.

Presenting the school district’s motion to reconsider, attorney Barbara Loughman said the Town of Carroll had failed to meet the statutory requirement to force a ballot vote.

Loughman said that Carroll submitted incomplete information that did not satisfy state law. The town overestimated its own tax savings from withdrawal by a half-million dollars, and failed to outline the property tax impact on other WMRSD communities (between $3 and $4 more per $1,000) if withdrawal occurs, she said.

She portrayed Carroll as a town with immense property wealth — particularly through the development of the Omni Mt. Washington Resort and high-end seasonal homes — that wanted to hoard its tax revenue.

“They don’t want to share that good fortune with the other towns in the school district, they want to keep it to themselves by withdrawing,” she said.

However, Carroll attorney Dean Eggert argued — and the state board agreed — that the town met its legal requirements under RSA 196:26.

“All my client is asking you to do is take a look at the statute, and make sure we put in the statutory components. You’ll not the plan includes each of those components,” Eggert said. “My client is simply saying ‘Now we’ve met these standards, please give us the opportunity for there to be a vote.”

Emphasizing the town’s position, Eggert said that the 59-year-old apportionment formula dating back to the school district’s formation was due for revision.

He compared the apportionment formula to a vintage automobile, saying “cars that were built in 1963 — while we all love a classic — sometimes they need renovation, restoration, and sometimes a new car. And Carroll is saying that the facts of 1963 are different.”

HISTORY

The path to withdrawal began nearly two years ago.

Unhappy with education expenses, Carroll formed a School Study Committee in early 2020.

After nine months they produced two warrant articles, which were accepted by the Select Board.

One warrant article would have gone to the five-town school district. It would have de-emphasized property values in the apportionment formula (from 40% to 20% of the formula) and saved Carroll $1 million per year.

When the school tabled that proposal in January 2021, because it arrived too late in the annual meeting process, Carroll proceeded with a second warrant article to initiate a withdrawal. Carroll Town Meeting voters approved it, 214-58.

That triggered the formation of a 10-member Carroll Withdrawal Committee made up of one school board member and one select board member from each WMRSD 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.”

The state Board of Education heard the minority report on Nov. 10, and approved the ballot vote.

WMRSD was not notified of the hearing, nor was their majority report considered by the state board during deliberations.

The school district filed the motion for reconsideration which was heard, and denied, on Thursday.

The Town of Carroll expects the ballot measure will fail the five-town district. But as long as it wins majority approval in Carroll, the town can return to the Board of Education to pursue the next steps, as set by state law.

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

If Carroll withdraws, they intend 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).

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