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Inter-Lakes towns discuss keeping the peace

August 25, 2010
CENTER HARBOR — Selectmen from Meredith, Center Harbor, and Sandwich addressed ongoing concerns relating to the Inter-Lakes School District, especially in the aftermath of this year's district meeting.

Members of all three Boards of Selectmen along with Meredith Town Manager Phil Warren, School Board member Jack Carty, and Superintendent Phil McCormack met for the roundtable meeting in Center Harbor on Wednesday.

Following the controversial results of the district meeting in March, a petition motion was presented at town meeting by Meredith resident Mark Flanders asking Meredith to examine the feasibility of asking for a withdrawal study from the Inter-Lakes School District. After extensive discussion, the selectmen and School Board learned about the withdrawal process from an attorney from the New Hampshire School Boards Association. Shortly afterward, the selectmen decided by consensus not to pursue the measure.

"We looked at that as the end result being very expensive, very time consuming, and very negative," said Meredith Selectman Peter Brothers

Warren helped organize a meeting between Meredith, Center Harbor, and Sandwich, including School Board members, to discuss any issues the communities might have in a public forum.

Brothers said the meeting was to be a forum for the communities to air any concerns or discuss ways the three towns could collaborate.

"We're looking at it from a standpoint of, shall we say, sort through what some of the root causes were," Brothers said. "I think the big question would be how do we as communities involved in a cooperative school district and individuals, where do we do from here forward?"

School Board member Jack Carty said what happened at the district meeting was not that unusual for a school district.

"This was created by a particular group with a particular viewpoint coming to that school district meeting and carrying the day," said Carty.

Brothers said he did not want to see a protracted backlash for what happened at that meeting. Brothers said this creates the need to discuss issues and find some common ground to address conflicts.

Brothers said he was curious as to what conversations Center Harbor's Selectmen had with their residents. Center Harbor Selectman Charley Hanson said no one has approached them and spoken about the issue.

"What you're talking about is a great effort to collaborate regionally and a withdrawal will head in the opposite direction," said Inter-Lakes Superintendent Phil McCormack. "I was appreciative of the decision the Selectboard in Meredith made not to ask the School Board to initiate the study. I think it's important for us to look at opportunities here."

Sandwich Selectman Jerry Gingras said the interest for most Sandwich voters was maintaining town viability. Gingras said the town is in the process of updating its master plan and has been faced with issues such as having only one general store, no gas stations, and other issues.

Gingras said losing the sixth grade at Sandwich Central School could have been the beginning of a downfall that people were afraid would eventually result in the school closing. The town would also lose people who would not want to come because there was no sixth grade.

"I think it was a good decision; in part it probably helped save Sandwich," Gingras said.

Flanders said he understand Sandwich's concerns, though more regard should have been had for who was bearing the burden.

"Sandwich really does not want to give up their sixth grade, but I don't feel like subsidizing," Flanders said. "Do the members of one community want to shoulder what the members of another community want to keep their school open?

Meredith Selectman Nate Torr said the bigger issue for Meredith was how much more was put onto the budget.

"We should be able to deliver an excellent education with a dollar amount that is far more reasonable," said Meredith Selectman Colette Worsman.

Carty said there seemed to be an element at the meeting of collaboration between Meredith residents and sandwich residents with Meredith residents willing to give Sandwich their interests if they returned the favor.

Sandwich Selectman Bud Martin said Sandwich citizens in general believe Inter-Lakes is doing an excellent job educating the students. As the parent of a child in the high school, "I can't say enough of the quality (education) my child has received."

"We're going to listen and collaborate, that's what it's all about," Martin said.

"We have to look at reality and say that's the real world; somebody has to pay this bill. I'm happy to pay my share," Flanders said, "but I'm not happy to pay a wasteful share when I could be giving a good education for 30 to 40 percent less."

Karen Sticht of Meredith said she was especially concerned about people who could not get in to vote that night. Sticht told of one elderly couple who told the Meredith town meeting they were unable to get to the district meeting because they could not find close enough parking and would not be able to walk a distance to get to the building. Sticht asked if it would be possible to enable greater participation, such as moving the meeting to a more convenient day and time or at another location.

Members of the Meredith board said this could be the beginning of a regular dialogue. Warren said the boards could set up a meeting on a quarterly basis and agree on a time and place to meet and discuss before the budget processes commence.

The boards agreed to meet again in November.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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