Viewpoint: Jay Schechter – ConVal agreement no longer works

By JAY SCHECHTER

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-19-2024 11:48 AM

On Wednesday, April 10, the Monadnock Center For History and Culture and Monadnock Ledger-Transcript sponsored a Community Conversation. Several members of the Dublin Education Advisory Committee attended.

The presentation was billed as an event to ask the question, “Where does the ConVal District go from here?” It started with a presentation by a panel composed of a current and past member of the ConVal Board of Education – Tom Burgess of Peterborough and Katherine Heck of Greenfield, respectively –  Gary Gorski of the Peterborough Planning Board and Bethany Craig from Bennington.

The input from the ConVal board members included another justification of the Prismatic report, which recommended the closing of the school in Dublin, along with Bennington, Francestown and Temple. Board members stressed the need for more tax support from the state for ConVal. There was no mention of controlling costs, other than via the reduction in the number of primary schools. In short, the ConVal School Board does not appear to have heard the message sent by the voters in most of our towns last month.

Gorski felt that the impending construction of new homes would fill the excess capacity in our schools, and Craig explained the social and emotional impact a school closing would have on her town. This is a consideration which has consistently been avoided by our School Board.

No new ideas were presented on where to go from here. Comments in the press by board reps indicate that the majority still support school closure. The wisdom of Dublin voters in passing of Warrant Article 1, requiring a feasibility study about the possibility of Dublin and Francestown leaving the district, is becoming more clear. This study has diverted the board’s attention from school-closure planning.

Building our way out of the current situation is not a solution. Based on the math presented, 14,000 new homes would need to be constructed in order to fill the schools. This would require an enormous and unprecedented increase in local housing starts, which would bring its own set of issues.

The following numbers help to outline the extent of Dublin’s financial burden (all numbers have been rounded off). Dublin pays, $37,000 to ConVal per student. ConVal spends an average of $27,000 per student. The state average is $19,000. Private and charter schools spend $10,000 and up. This means that Dublin is sending ConVal $10,000 more per student then it is costing ConVal to educate our students.

This is prior to an approved increase to the ConVal budget. The budget for the town of Dublin, excluding school funding, is approximately $3 million. Our contribution to ConVal will soon amount to well over $5 million. This is not sustainable for the residents of Dublin.

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The chimera of additional state aid has been proposed by the ConVal board as the solution to their severe financial challenges. There was no discussion about reducing costs at the meeting, other than via school closures. ConVal board members seem to confuse cost-shifting and cost management. Any additional financial support provided by the State of New Hampshire, however desirable, will be borne by every Dublin taxpayer. We all pay both state and local taxes. There is no free lunch.

Last, but certainly not least, what about the education at ConVal? Academic performance metrics comparing ConVal to state medians are not impressive. These comparative metrics are adjusted for COVID’s effect on all districts statewide. A recent article in Barron’s (available at barrons.com/articles/covid-hit-to-education-pandemic-economy-643c7b5e) outlined the continued impact from COVID on our children’s education. The article states that “the consequences of a disrupted education are still lingering for the cohort of COVID students. This learning loss is on course to cause even greater disruption to our students’ futures and to our economy as a whole.” Our school leadership has been distracted from their mission of educating our students by attempts to close schools and by years-long, ongoing, litigation with the State of New Hampshire.

The current Articles of Agreement written in 1967, which bind nine towns to the ConVal School District, no longer works for Dublin. Other towns locked into unsatisfactory agreements are coming to the same conclusion. Any solution will have to come from us. The DEAC is working hard to identify the issues we are facing as well as possible solutions. Please support us by attending one of our meetings to listen and providing us with your input.

Jay Schechter is chairman of the Dublin Education Advisory Committee.