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Tensions mount over Middleton school withdrawal proposal

Union Leader Correspondent

October 09. 2013 9:48PM

MIDDLETON — Tensions are rising as the committee to study the feasibility of withdrawing some students from Farmington is finishing its plan to submit to the state Board of Education.

The committee to study the feasibility of withdrawing from the Authorized Regional Enrollment Area (AREA) Agreement seek to have a final draft of their findings and a minority report before its next session on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Middleton Municipal Building.

Two years ago, Middleton residents voted against withdrawing while Farmington residents decided to review the AREA agreement, which was enacted in 1972. Since then, members of a joint review committee, composed of representatives from both school boards, have been working to update the agreement.

Last March, Middleton residents voted 167-63 to form a withdrawal study committee, which convened June 25. Per state law, the committee has 180 days to determine whether withdrawal is “feasible and suitable” or submit a plan to the state Board of Education.

The report is about 90 percent complete, according to Linda Adamo, a Middleton School Board member who heads the committee. It needs to be submitted to the state by Nov. 26.

A draft proposes two options: entering into a new agreement to send Middleton students in grades 7 to 12 to the Gov. Wentworth Regional School District in Wolfeboro or withdrawing all students from Farmington. The latter option is contingent on Middleton residents approving to build a school to educate students through grade 6, according to the draft report.

While the committee reviewed and continued to update the draft report Tuesday night, the bulk of the conversation was about how the process could impact the two communities.

Joel Chagnon, who represents Farmington School Board on the committee, said he’s heard from “a lot of residents” who don’t want Middleton students to leave, especially since the loss of revenue will affect Farmington taxpayers.

Superintendent Steve Welford, who oversees Farmington Schools, estimated if Middleton’s 126 students in grades 7 through 12 went to Gov. Wentworth, Farmington could lose $1.4 million — 8.5 percent of the district’s $16.3 million operating budget.

“Clearly, there’s a very significant impact there,” Welford said.

After holding two joint sessions in the past, including one with members from the N.H. Department of Education, the two school boards will conduct separate efforts to inform voters and to address concerns from residents.

If approved by the state and accepted by Middleton voters, the change could occur as early as the 2015 school year and a school could be constructed — on the district-owned property along King’s Highway — as early as 2016.

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