Meredith voters call for study on withdrawing from school district
March 17, 2010
MEREDITH — A motion to undertake a study into Meredith's potential withdrawal from the Inter-Lakes School District passed by a large margin at Town Meeting last Wednesday.
The motion was made by resident Mark Flanders at the end of Town Meeting for the School Board to begin a feasibility study on Meredith's withdrawal from the School District.
The motion came a week after $792,152 was put back in the School District budget during the District Meeting. The action took place following numerous discussions and debates on deep budget cuts, such as moving the sixth grade at Sandwich Central School to the Middle Tier.
Many Sandwich voters gathered at that meeting, which resulted in a packed gym at Inter-Lakes High School.
Resident Mark Billings read a statement at town meeting addressing the polarization among Meredith residents that resulted from the School District Meeting. While people may disagree on the issues, Billings asked for people to embrace a "spirit of respect" to fund solutions to the issues.
"Just because we agree on a particular issue doesn't make us anti-education or anti-children," Billings said.
Billings remembered a school-funding crisis in California around 30 years ago where communities succeeded because of total commitment of community members.
Billings said he supported a discussion or a taskforce to examine the long-term viability of the schools and utilize the "vast human capital" of volunteers and those willing to serve in the town.
Charlie Stone said he and his wife were unable to attend the meeting because they could not find a close enough parking spot to the meeting's location and they are unable to walk longer distances. Stone commented on how a small group of people seemed to control the meeting and, in the case of the School District, vote in a budget of nearly $21 million.
"I don't think we could have called many more people to get in here," Stone said.
Mark Flanders made a motion under RSA 195:25 for the School Board to start a feasibility study for Meredith to withdraw from the Inter-Lakes School District. Under the law, if the School Board does not respond within 45 days, the Board of Selectmen can call a special town meeting to consider the study.
"(The budget was) largely supported by a group of people able to turn out the vote and get their agenda passed," Mark Flanders said.
Selectman Bob Flanders, Mark Flanders' father, seconded the motion.
"The town of Meredith and the voters were hijacked by the town of Sandwich," Bob Flanders said. "It happened at the District Meeting and it almost happened at the election. We got hosed and we got hosed by the town of Sandwich."
Bob Flanders said "shame on us" for not having as many voters out, though if the town withdraws it would have better control of its tax dollars.
"It's happened this year, it's happened in the past," he said.
Mark Flanders replied that he did not support his father's remarks and did not want the issue to be divisive. He said he only wanted to see a study done to answer the questions of feasibility, especially before another conflict arises.
Mark Flanders said withdrawing from a school district is a nearly three-year process requiring a study then going to town meeting, the Department of Education, and District Meeting if approved by each of the previous bodies. The measure then would not take effect until July 1 of that year.
"At least we would have the information as voters to make an informed decision," Mark Flanders said.
Maribeth McEwan said she spoke at the School District meeting and was later approached by two people who said, "You people in Meredith can afford it."
"(I) felt like someone was putting a hand in my pocket," McEwan said. "Look at this seriously, otherwise we're going to get mugged again."
Paula Trombi questioned the appropriateness of discussing the topic at town meeting, also saying there were numerous opportunities to voice an opinion on the School District budget.
"I am very offended by this," Trombi said. "We are a democracy. We already voted on this. They had a say; to me it's moot."
Board Chair Peter Brothers said the actions taken at District Meeting have an effect on Meredith as a municipality and the question remains how that should be managed.
"We need to find ways and options that are available to vet it," Brothers said. "Think about the process, think about the possible solutions, do so in an orderly and respectful manner. We have an obligation to voice our concern."
Brothers said he would support discussing the issue to come up with a solution.
Justin Van Etten said he is opposed to Meredith leaving the district, saying he sees the benefit of regionalization as chair of Stewart's Ambulance. He did say he supported getting more information.
Meredith School Board representative Jack Carty said he felt the community came out and participated in the process on March 3.
"I don't have a personal problem with investigating a potential remedy," Carty said. "Ultimately you're talking about the will of the people."
Carty said he represents all towns and not necessarily the parochial interests of Meredith.
"I think it's something worth looking into," he said.
Richard DeMark opposed the motion.
"It provides an ultimatum to the School Board that if the School Board doesn't take action the town wants, the town will act," DeMark said, saying the measure would cause division.
The motion calling for a feasibility study for Meredith's withdrawal from the School District passed by a large margin.