ConVal study committee sets its course

ConVal School Board

ConVal School Board COURTESY PHOTO

By JESSECA TIMMONS

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript 

Published: 05-14-2024 12:01 PM

During its second meeting on Thursday night, the ConVal Feasibility Study Committee (FSC) mapped out a plan for the next few months to begin the process of  determining whether it would be feasible for Francestown or Dublin, or both, to withdraw from the ConVal School District.

Committee Chair Michael Hoyt, School Board representative from Bennington, suggested breaking into two working groups, with the northern towns meeting with Francestown and the southern towns meeting with Dublin before coming back together, to which the other committee members agreed.

“Talking about both towns at the same time is going to be very confusing,” he said.

Under state law, approval for a feasibility study requires the district to form a committee, which will prepare a report for the state Board of Education to either recommend or not recommend withdrawal, with minority opinion allowed. If the state board approves a withdrawal plan, residents will vote, and withdrawal can pass either by majority vote in a town looking to withdraw and across the district as a whole, or by three-fifths vote in a town seeking to withdraw, unless three-fifths of voters across the district disapprove. 

“It is the job of this committee to work out a plan to educate the children in both of these towns, and then it will be up to this committee to decide if those plans are feasible for the withdrawing districts. To be very clear, it is the legal responsibility of this board to come up with the plans; this board has to come up with the education plans and come to an agreement,” Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said. 

Charlie Pyle of Francestown nominated and elected to be vice chair at Thursday night’s meeting. The feasibility study committee includes, respectively, select board and School Board representatives John Robertson and Erin Pils-Martin of Antrim, James Cleary and Hoyt of Bennington; Carol Monroe and Alan Edelkind of Dublin, Pyle and Tom Kirlin of Francestown, Michael Borden and Curtis Hamilton of Greenfield, Elisabeth Villaume and Dan Harper of Hancock, Bill Kennedy and Janine Lesser of Peterborough, Chet Bowles and Jim Frederickson of Sharon and Bill Ezell and Jim Kingston of Temple. 

In a response to questions from committee members about whether towns can also withdraw from SAU 1 (the School Administrative Unit for ConVal), Hoyt responded that there is a separate process to withdraw from an SAU.

“That process is under 194 C:2 , which is a different law. The cost of withdrawing from the SAU would be phenomenal,” Hoyt said.  

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Hoyt suggested that the Dublin Education Advisory Committee and the Francestown School Committee, resident groups which organized in response to the failed ConVal School District warrant article which would have paved the way for potentially closing schools in Dublin, Francestown, Bennington and Temple, attend an upcoming meeting of the FSC. 

“Between the select boards and these school committees, we need to understand what these towns want to do,” Hoyt said. 

In response to several questions about the cost of special education per town, ConVal Business Administrator Brian Cisneros said he was working to parse out the numbers, as they are currently not organized per town, and the needs of individual students cannot be identified due to privacy laws. 

“This information will take the longest because the information is confidential; I can’t break it down more than that. Right now, the costs are pooled, because it is a cooperative district. They are not broken down by town,” Cisneros said. 

Cisneros added that he “had already spent 60 hours getting the numbers.” Hoyt noted that the federal and state government only pay about 18% of special education costs, and that the rest of the cost in New Hampshire falls to the towns, regardless of  where a child attends school. 

The next meeting of the FSC is May 23 at 6 p.m. at the SAU conference room.