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Middleton sends report on changing school districts to state

MIDDLETON — Local officials believe the town will be ready by March to ask voters to build a school by 2016.

The committee studying the feasibility of withdrawing Middleton students from Farmington schools said it will submit its report to the state Department of Education today.

During a joint meeting with the full school board Saturday, the four representatives from Middleton — Linda Adamo and Ken Garry from the school board and Selectmen Terry Laughy and John Hotchkiss — signed the final report. But their two counterparts from Farmington did not because they do not agree with the findings.

On Thursday, Farmington School Board member Wanda Thivierge said their letter of concern — an unofficial “minority report” — was still being reviewed by legal counsel, but she expects it to be ready before the Board of Education considers the issue. Superintendent Steve Welford, who serves as a non-voting member of the committee, said he has not seen the final version of the letter, “but I would guess it would deal with the macro financial issues — gross dollars lost, tax rate impact, etc. — rather than the micro ones like specific programs and staff.”

“Those have not been discussed to this point by the Farmington board,” Welford said.

Phased withdrawal

The final report concludes it is feasible for Middleton to conduct a phased withdrawal from Farmington. It proposes to send grades 7 through 12 to the Gov. Wentworth Regional School District, in Wolfeboro, after July 1, 2015, and to build an elementary school in town for the remaining students the following year, if the project is approved by voters.

Garry said Middleton would remain a part of School Administrative Unit 61, which oversees schools in Farmington, as the town would have to vote to study and initiate a change in the future.

“That’s a whole separate process,” Garry said.

Gov. Wentworth pact

Garry said the final report includes initial figures and an explanation that the tuition agreement from Gov. Wentworth is pending.

“We were hoping to have the tuition agreement finalized,” Garry said, adding it’s possible the Gov. Wentworth Regional School Board could approve the agreement during its Dec. 5 meeting.

According to the report, Middleton would pay an estimated $2,560,503 in tuition to send 249 students to Farmington. This includes $5,435.32 in tuition for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, $10,871.64 per student in grades 1 to 8 and $11,289.36 for high school students.

If Gov. Wentworth approves the tuition agreement, Middleton would pay $10,843.50 per student in grades 7 to 12, according to the report.

Build school by 2017

While the committee discussed waiting until 2017 to withdraw younger students from Farmington, most officials believed the town could design and build a new school by 2016.

On Thursday, Garry said if they waited, the town would have to pay another year’s tuition to Farmington, but officials would have more time to conduct a “thoughtful, meaningful process,” to develop curriculum at the new school.

If the withdrawal plan, school proposal or tuition agreement is rejected by voters, some or all of Middleton’s students will remain in Farmington under the current AREA agreement.

Last year, local residents voted 167-64 for the district to study the feasibility and suitability of withdrawing students from Farmington as some people were concerned about the quality of education and tuition rates.

In October, school officials formed a building committee to study the feasibility of building a school on a 55-acre parcel owned by the district. The committee will present residents with its findings at the annual school district meeting in February.

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