$30 million price tag for ConVal withdrawal

  • SAU 1 in Peterborough. (Benji Rosen/Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/11/2016 7:06:49 PM

Divorce is expensive.

If Peterborough were to leave ConVal, it may have to pay $30.3 million to the district, according to estimates being presented tonight at the Budget and Property Committee.

According to RSA 195:28, Peterborough would be responsible for the costs of capital improvements and additions to the three school buildings in town – ConVal High School, South Meadow Middle School and Peterborough Elementary School, which the district estimates is $29.4 million. Peterborough would be responsible for its remaining share of the debt service as well, which is about $875,000, according to the district.

ConVal’s Budget and Property Committee meets tonight at 6:30 at the SAU office. Up for discussion is a controversial petition that, should voters approve it May 10, would require that the district perform a study exploring Peterborough’s secession from the district.

Though the petition requests the school board perform the study, a separate entitity could also carry it out. The study must be performed by a committee made up of at least one school board member and one selectman from each of the nine towns in the district. The committee may appoint other members to it, such as a consultant.

Within 180 days after the committee is formed, it must report to the N.H. Department of Education how or if Peterborough can withdraw. If the DOE approves a withdrawal plan, voters in the nine towns will have the final say. If they approve Peterborough’s departure, the town would be responsible for the capital improvement and debt service costs the district calculated, as well as other costs.

Peterborough could also owe the amount the district is poised to lose in state aid if Peterborough withdraws, according to RSA 195:27. The district did not include this amount in its draft of the estimated withdrawal costs.

State law allows these bills to be paid on a schedule agreed upon by Peterborough and the district. The district must place the payments it receives in a trust fund it can draw from only to pay off debt on school facilities and other expenses Peterborough is responsible for.

The drafting of these withdrawal estimates is the district’s first action related to the petition article since Butch Estey, the former chair of the school board, and members of the Budget and Property Committee, criticized it when news first broke of the petition.

The petition comes as the district plans to review its organizational structure. The district is composed of eight elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. The board plans to study this makeup over the next three years, according to the five-year strategic plan the board approved. Yet, the district said the withdrawal study would rush its own study.

“It took the ConVal Organizational Committee two years to create the ConVal District,” reads a memo attached to the meeting agenda, referring to the committee that formed the district in 1967. “We will have 180 days … research and decisions must be made quickly.”

The memo lists four considerations the district should address as part the withdrawal study.

The memo asks how the district and Peterborough should be organized, and how students should learn life skills, receive emotional support and enroll in the career and technical school under a new structure.

How about bus schedules, food service, facility maintenance and technology support? Other considerations the memo recommends considering are the cooperative hockey team with Conant High School, the “fill the void” campaign and the teachers union.

On the Peterborough warrant is a request for $20,000 for a consultant to independently review any withdrawal plan. While Dick Dunning, a Peterborough school board member, recommended the town hire a consultant to assist the district with the study, the town plans to hire the consultant to audit any study for errors or criticism.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or brosen@ledgertranscript.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenjiRosenMLT.

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