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IL, Meredith officials hear about withdrawal laws

May 12, 2010
MEREDITH — At a special informational session last week, Meredith and Inter-Lakes board members received an education on the law regarding withdrawal from a school district.

The School Board convened the session on Wednesday night outlining the legal procedures and parameters for withdrawal from a school district.

The meeting was brought on by a motion from the floor at Meredith's town meeting that the town and district look at the feasibility of starting a withdrawal process. Both the School Board and the Meredith Board of Selectmen agreed that more information was needed before any further discussions could take place.

Barrett Christina, a staff attorney with the New Hampshire School Boards Association, made a presentation to the School Board on the statutory requirements and legal ramifications of a municipality withdrawing from a cooperative school district.

Meredith Selectmen Peter Brothers, Colette Worsman, Miller Lovett, and board Chair Chuck Palm were also in attendance as well as Meredith Town Manager Phil Warren. A number of district residents also attended the meeting, including Mark Flanders of Meredith, who initially presented the petition at Meredith's town meeting to examine a possible withdrawal study.

The meeting was only informational. Members of the School Board and the Board of Selectmen could ask questions at any time, though there was no opportunity for public discussion or input.

Christina emphasized that he was not there representing either the School Board or the selectmen and said both entities would have to consult their own attorneys for questions or actions.

Christina said there is little case law regarding such a withdrawal and he was only aware of two cases, one involving Mason's withdrawal from the Mascenic Regional School District and the other being Surrey's withdrawal from the Monadnock Regional School District.

"It didn't go so well," Christina said of his knowledge of the other cases. "There wasn't a positive experience for the town, the School Board, the people."

The presentation discussed RSA 195:25-30, the provisions and procedures for withdrawal from a cooperative school district.

The withdrawal process begins with a feasibility study performed by a group consisting of one member of the School Board and one member of the Board of Selectmen from each town in the district as well as any other members appointed by the committee, such as principals, the superintendent, or anyone with expertise related to the issues to be discussed.

The group undertakes a thorough study of the district and feasibility of withdrawal considering financial, educational, and other relevant details, such as composition of the new school district, division of employees, and others.

Information is compiled in a withdrawal report to be approved by the study committee within 180 days. If the committee decides to not submit the report, any member of the committee who disagreed with the decision may submit a minority report containing a proposed withdrawal plan.

Any plan will then go to the Department of Education for review and the department will decide if the plan is suitable. Christina said a minority report could be submitted, but if a scarce minority in the committee submitted it, the department might consider that factor in the submitted plan.

If the Department of Education decides the plan is suitable, it will then be submitted to the voters at the next school district meeting, where it would require a majority ballot vote to pass. If the voters approved the withdrawal, it will go into effect on July 1 one year subsequent to the date of the vote.

If the plan passed the Department of Education and the parties involved decided not to go forward with it, the plan would still go on the warrant unless other legal action was taken. The parties could also voice their opposition when the warrant is presented.

"You're going to have a hard time explaining why all of a sudden," Christina said.

Christina said the process usually takes around two years from start to finish, saying if Meredith hypothetically started the study process the day after that night's meeting, received the required approvals, and passed at district meeting, the town could withdraw on July 1, 2012.

According to state law, the withdrawing town, or "withdrawing district," must pay for its share of outstanding debt, including bonds, leases, contracts, as well as loss of state building aid due to their withdrawal. This is not the case for debt incurred after the withdrawal study has been requested.

All properties and buildings located within the withdrawing district will be deeded to that town.

In the case of Meredith, the Inter-Lakes High School and Elementary School buildings are both located in Meredith and would go to Meredith. Sandwich has a school building it could use for its students, but Center Harbor does not. In that case an arrangement could be made for their students to remain in the school, such as under a tuition system.

Christina said there are districts, mostly in the northern part of the state, that do not have school buildings.

"The state Board of Education is going to make sure every child has a school to go to," Christina said.

Board member Howard Cunningham said quality of education could suffer with the disruption of students being moved to another school. Cunningham said this could pose a major disruption at the high school level with students attending one school yet spending their senior year and graduating in another building.

"It's not only capital costs, its quality of education," Cunningham said.

In order to receive the building title, the withdrawing district would have to pay for the cost of capital improvements less the share of costs it already has paid. The withdrawing district also forfeits any equity it has in other buildings in the district.

Christina said the withdrawing district is essentially breaking a contract and needs to pay for damages as a result.

Both the Board of Selectmen and the School Board emphasized this was simply an informational meeting and any withdrawal process had by no means started.

Flanders said his motion from the floor was nonbinding and only to explore the feasibility of starting a study and not at all to initiate the process.

"This is getting us in an area where I don't feel comfortable going," Brothers said, saying this meeting was informational and there are other avenues the town and district can pursue short of withdrawal. "Let's find out what all the different options are. I'm questioning whether this is the only option. What options does the town have? From my standpoint, I don't see us going in one particular direction."

Klumb Environmenta;
Varney Smith
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