March 14. 2013 10:33AM

Loss of Dunbarton students would mean $2M in lost revenue for Goffstown

By Kathy Remillard

GOFFSTOWN - The Goffstown School Board is moving forward with plans for the withdrawal of Dunbarton from its AREA agreement in 2014, seeking the town?s representation on a committee that would formally withdraw the district from its agreement with Goffstown and New Boston should the district choose to partner with Bow.

The two districts are at odds over whether the Dunbarton School District is responsible for repayment of its share of a bond that paid for improvements at Goffstown High School that totals approximately $880,000.

The loss of Dunbarton students would mean about a $2 million loss in revenue for Goffstown.
Dunbarton residents will vote at their annual School District Meeting Saturday, March 16, on whether to send their middle and high school students to Bow in 2014, or maintain its 40-year relationship with Goffstown.

According to a letter released by the Goffstown School Board, the Goffstown board is requesting that Dunbarton appoint representatives to a committee that will begin the process of withdrawing Dunbarton from the AREA agreement that is set to expire on June 30, 2014.

A meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 19, according to School Board member Keith Allard.

If Dunbarton withdraws from the AREA agreement, it would become responsible for repayment of its share of outstanding bonds, according to state law.

?The purpose of this meeting will be to develop a plan for the orderly withdrawal of the Dunbarton School District from the AREA, consistent with the withdrawal provisions of NH RSA 195-A:14, IV,? the letter states.

Goffstown School Board Chairman Philip Pancoast said there is no provision in state statute that says Goffstown can request only its own withdrawal from the agreement.

?The governing statute is silent as to who may request such a meeting for the purpose of developing a withdrawal plan when a sending district seeks to avoid obligations under an existing AREA through a passive expiration strategy,? the letter to Dunbarton states.

The AREA committee would have 180 days to submit a report to the state Board of Education, indicating that a withdrawal is not feasible, or a report that includes a withdrawal plan.

Dunbarton School Board Chairman Rene Ouellet has said that if the agreement is simply allowed to expire, Dunbarton would no longer be responsible for the bond repayment.

Goffstown School Board Chairman Philip Pancoast said Goffstown disagrees with that position.
?We simply don?t believe that is a position that is sustainable,? he said.

At a public forum on March 6, Dunbarton School Board member Jeff Trexler presented Dunbarton?s position on the bond repayment, which says the district would be responsible for it if Dunbarton chooses to withdraw from the district, but not if it simply allows the agreement to expire.

Trexler said Dunbarton is not withdrawing from the agreement.

?There are no provisions in RSA 195-A regarding what happens upon expiration of an AREA plan,? Trexler said. ?To the best of our knowledge an AREA plan expiration has never occurred in New Hampshire.?

Several Dunbarton residents have turned to social media to talk about the issue, forming the Dunbarton Parent Group on Facebook.

Dunbarton resident Mark Wamser said he saw Pancoast?s assertion concerning the bond repayment as an ?unveiled threat and scare tactic.?

Ben McGuire pointed out several strengths of Goffstown High School.

?With any relationship there will be times when people don?t see eye to eye, but the real question should be: Is there upward mobility in the current situation? In other words, is there constant improvement ... with the Goffstown school system? There most certainly is ... there is a proven track record to show it along with decades of, and generations of, school spirit and tradition,? he said. ?Don?t dismiss that during the decision making process, especially because of some speed bumps along the way.

Goffstown?s Allard defended his board?s position.

?We truly believe that money is owed to us,? he said. ?At no time did we use that as a threat. We have not used any scare tactics – all we?ve done is put out information.?