ConVal committee begins to study withdrawal process

ConVal administrators and School Board and select board members from each of the district’s nine towns convene for the district’s first Feasibility Study Committee meeting Thursday night.

ConVal administrators and School Board and select board members from each of the district’s nine towns convene for the district’s first Feasibility Study Committee meeting Thursday night. STAFF PHOTO BY JESSECA TIMMONS


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-30-2024 8:34 AM

Modified: 05-03-2024 1:24 PM

ConVal district administrators, Select Board members and School Board representatives from each of the district’s nine towns have begun the process of withdrawal feasibility studies for Dublin and Francestown, with a deadline of Nov. 1.

“This is a significant amount of work. Meeting once a month is not enough, and you are all already serving on the School Board and your select boards,” said ConVal attorney Dean Eggert during the group’s first meeting Thursday night. 

The committee will meet the second and fourth Thursdays of every month at 6 p.m. in the SAU office. Bennington School Board representative Mike Hoyt, who has prior experience with feasibility studies, was elected chair. 

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, Charlie 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. 

The studyand withdrawal process

After a failed ConVal warrant article which could have led to closing elementary schools in Temple, Francestown, Dublin, and Bennington, voters in Dublin and Francestown approved requests for feasibility studies for withdrawal from the ConVal School District at their March Town Meetings. 

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.

Eggert said most feasibility study committees do not end up recommending that towns withdraw.

“Once you check in and start looking at other towns that have gone through this process, you see it is very difficult to withdraw. It is not very typical for a withdrawal study committee to recommend withdrawal in the end. At the end of the day, the entire district is voting on withdrawal. What we have seen is that citizens often dramatically shoot it down,” Eggert said. 

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Eggert elaborated on the withdrawal challenges towns face. 

“When a district withdraws, they are legally obligated to provide SAU services, such as superintendent, assistant superintendent, their own HR director, their own curriculum director. They have to figure out how to provide those services,” Eggert said. “The district also has responsibility for providing transportation. They might want to contract with the SAU. Another factor is figuring out where the students are going to go. The other districts do not have to negotiate, and they do not have to give guarantees.” 

In response to questions from Monroe about the responsibilities of the district, ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders clarified that “special education costs are the responsibility of the district.”

“There are different ways that could look,” Rizzo Saunders said. “A district could choose to hire its own special education director, or there could be a special education director for the whole SAU.”

At the Select Board Advisory Committee following the feasibility study meeting, Kennedy asked for a “straw poll” of how constituents in ConVal’s nine towns are reacting to the feasibility studies. 

“In my opinion, this process is backwards,” Kennedy said. “I feel, and a lot of my constituents feel, that the burden should be on the towns to make their case as to why they should withdraw. This process is a huge burden on the district on the whole to provide the information that is needed to make reasonable assessment, but that’s the way the RSA is written.” 

Rizzo Saunders noted that “it is not true that this process will not cost the district anything.”

“It does cost us money, in a very tight budget. We have legal costs. We have to pay for someone to take the minutes.  Just to be clear, this will take time away from other things. It takes all of us to run this district, and we will have  to take time away from educational concerns to complete this process. It has already cost us $1,200,” she said.