Secession talk: Seven Newfound towns listen up
BRISTOL - Selectmen and residents from the seven towns in the Newfound Area School District crowded the school board meeting Monday night, eager to hear an expert explain how a town secedes from a cooperative school district.
Because residents of Danbury passed a petitioned warrant article 243-78 last month instructing the district to conduct a study on the town's possible withdrawal, the district must comply and form a study group, said Barrett M. Christina, staff attorney with the New Hampshire School Board Association.
Selectmen from Alexandria, Bristol, Bridgewater, Danbury, Groton, Hebron and New Hampton seemed pleased to hear that other towns in the state, such as Mason and Surry, have withdrawn from school districts in the past several years.
"I wouldn't say it's common, but it has occurred a few times in the state over the past four to five years," Christina said.
He said many school districts are facing the same problem that Newfound schools face - declining enrollments. As schools try to cut spending to deal with fewer students, smaller towns sometimes object, he said, and some have withdrawn.
Over the years, Newfound school boards have talked publicly about cost-saving plans that would close the town's K-4 elementary school and bring its students to Bristol. Danbury students also have the longest rides to school, with some having morning rides of more than an hour.
But leaving the district would be costly, Christina said.
The district has already calculated that if the town withdraws, Danbury residents would owe the school district an initial payment of $129,000 for investments the district has made in Danbury Elementary, which was sold by the town to the district many years ago. They would also owe roughly $35,000 a year for the remainder of a 13-year district improvements bond that the town approved while part of the district.
In accordance with state law, the school board will form a committee, board members said, made up of one selectman from each district town and each member of the school board. The committee will have 180 days to determine if the withdrawal is feasible, Christina said.
If the board finds it is not feasible for Danbury to leave the district, Danbury residents may submit a "minority report" of their own contesting the committee's decision.
Selectmen from Bridgewater were particularly interested in the discussion, as they also want changes in their school system.
Voters have repeatedly expressed their wish to form a K-8 school in their own school building, which the town owns.
"We own the school, the district runs it," said Selectman Terry Murphy. "Our voters have said they'd like to have our students stay in town in a K-8 system, but past school boards keep telling us no. I think this school board is different, though."
Bridgewater does not want to leave the district, Murphy said.
"We'd like to do it all within the cooperative system we have now," he said. "But we'll see how this goes with Danbury."