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Middleton to evaluate options of new school

Union Leader Correspondent

October 30. 2013 6:54PM

MIDDLETON — As district officials prepare to send their findings to the state, the town plans to start evaluating the cost to build and operate an elementary school in town.

The committee to Study the Feasibility of Withdrawal from the Authorized Regional Enrollment Area (AREA) Agreement - which began its work June 25 - is next scheduled to meet Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

The committee plans to submit its finished report, which explains the feasibility of a phased withdrawal of all local students from Farmington, to the state Board of Education around Nov. 22, according to a release by the Middleton School Board.

Under the proposal, Middleton would withdraw from the existing AREA agreement — enacted with Farmington in 1972 — by transferring students in grades 7-12 from Farmington to the Gov. Wentworth Regional School District, based in Wolfeboro, by July 1, 2015, and students in pre-kindergarten through grade 6 the following year.

The plan is contingent upon state approval, residents accepting the withdrawal plan and agreeing to build an elementary school in town. District officials plan to distribute a more detailed analysis to residents in the future.

Paul Leather, deputy commissioner of the N.H. Department of Education, said the seven-member Board of Education will usually address submitted reports within a month. He said agendas are published 10 days prior.

The Board of Education is scheduled to meet Dec. 19 in Londergan Hall — the state Department of Education building — at 101 Pleasant St. in Concord.

Last March, Middleton residents voted for the district to study withdrawing after some people raised concerns about the quality of education — especially since the Farmington High School lost its accreditation — and the tuition rate to Farmington.

District officials have expressed concerns about how tuition is calculated — based on Farmington’s school operating budget — and how Middleton pays an average student cost of $8,255, which is more than double the $4,023 Farmington residents pay for their students, according to the release.

“With additional financial examination by the Middleton School Board and no desire by the Farmington School Board to engage in a K-6 tuition agreement,” the district established a committee to study feasibility of building a school on a 55-acre parcel owned by the district in town, according to the release.

On Tuesday night, the school board selected officials and residents to serve on the building committee, which will present residents with their findings at the annual school district meeting.

During the feasibility committee’s Oct. 8 meeting, School Board member Ken Garry said it is “inevitable” the town will eventually build a school because it’s the largest community in the state without one.

“Once the ball’s rolling, it’s not going to stop,” Garry said Oct. 8.

Garry estimated it could cost $4.9 million to build an elementary school for pre-kindergarten through grade 6. He said the district must look into how much it would cost to run the school and present residents with options.

In 2004, members of N.H. School Administrators Association prepared the “Assessment of Educational Facility Needs K-8” to help determine needs and a feasibility study for the town.

At the time, it was estimated it would cost $4.8 million to build a school on the district’s 55-acres along King’s Highway for local students in kindergarten through grade 5, and $6.1 million for a school for kindergarten through grade 8.

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