BARTLETT — If you want your child to attend Josiah Bartlett Elementary School, move to Bartlett.
That was the message Bartlett School Board members gave teacher Patricia McGrath, who asked that her daughter be allowed to attend the school.
McGrath, a reading specialist at JBES who lives in North Conway, wrote to the board on June 21 asking about the possibility of her daughter, who will be a sixth-grader at John H. Fuller Elementary School this fall, attending Josiah Bartlett, a pre-K-through-eighth-grade school, in the fall of 2020 when she is in seventh grade.
In the letter, she asked for the board’s consideration “in allowing contracted staff to bring their children to the Bartlett School, waiving the tuition.
“I understand a similar agreement was reached in Jackson between their staff and school board. I have been an employee of the Bartlett School since 1998. I value many of the qualities that this school offers such as qualified staff, small class size and above all the unique culture and environment.”
The board reviewed the request at its July 9 meeting. Board member Dr. Ivette Emery asked if there is “some kind of understanding between schools where you kind of swap kids?”
Board chair Nancy Kelemen said no staff member had made a request for the middle school before. “We have had the discussion for the younger grades, but it was never a request. It would have to be something that became policy if we are to do it,” she said.
Board member Rob Clark recalled a request from a teacher to have a first-grader or kindergartner attend JBES, “but I think that child is now a sophomore in college. … It was discussed, I think, in 2000.”
Superintendent Kevin Richard said the Jackson School Board in 1999 adopted an “admission of non-resident student of an employee” policy. For this past school year, there was no charge for a staffer’s first child at the K-6 school and $2,500 for each additional child. Tuition is paid in four quarterly payments.
The Conway School District (John Fuller, Conway Elementary, Pine Tree, Kennett Middle and Kennett High School) does not waive tuition for the children of out-of-district staff.
In her letter, McGrath, said: “The high turnover of teachers as KMS is a current concern of mine as my youngest approaches the middle school,” she wrote. “They have lost several teachers over the last few years, and they just do not have the consistency of our school.
“We have a dedicated middle school staff who I know will give her the quality of education and attention she needs. I believe that as our staff and student population change, a great incentive for young, qualified teachers to apply to our school in the future would be the benefit of being able to bring children here,” McGrath wrote.
Board member Scott Grant worried about the repercussions of creating such a policy. “Who said other people aren’t going to want to do this? What about non-contracted people? What about town employees who want their kids to come here? What if they have a special ed kid that wants to come here?” he asked. “Those budgetary impacts are huge.”
Grant pointed out the average cost to educate a child in Bartlett is $25,000-to $30,000.
“So, the teachers who don’t have kids to come here, are they going to want $30,000 in (additional) pay?” he asked. “That’s a big deal. I’m sorry but if you want your kid to come here, move here. There are plenty of places for sale.”
He added that the Jackson School Board “is a different board than we are. Jackson does not have a collective bargaining agreement like Bartlett.”
Kelemen spoke about class size. “What happens if we had a classroom with 24 students in it and another student wants to come in, and we’re on the edge, do we have to get another teacher?
“There are a lot of implications for something like this. It would have to be a policy, and I don’t believe we can just say yes or no to a person,” Kelemen said.
“You would absolutely have to have a policy,” Richard said. “Otherwise, you would get into some discriminatory actions.”
Grant said: “If you’re talking discrimination, it’s discriminating to the hard-working people of Bartlett who work hard and respect their school and then have people from other towns come in and use this facility. To me that’s an outrage.”
Clark asked to have “a little more discussion” about a policy.
“Jackson did it for a particular reason,” Kelemen said. “They need kids in their school. Are we looking at this as a benefit to get teachers to come here? Are we looking at it to help a teacher that is here right now?
“Those are the questions that I think need to be answered before we go any further.”
“I just think to look a little bit more ... and say by Oct. 1 we’ll have an answer,” Clark said. “I think that it’s a fair question to them and also to us.” But he added: “I know where Scott is coming from, and I totally agree with what Scott’s saying.”
Grant remained opposed to the idea. “It’s almost like taking a baseball bat to a bees’ nest that’s sitting there,” he said. “We want to do the best that we can for every child in town. If all of a sudden townspeople say, ‘Wait a minute here,’ all hell is going to break loose, and education is going to get disrupted because taxpayers are going to be unhappy, some teachers are going be unhappy, some teachers will be happy, and the whole apple cart gets disrupted.
“I don’t want to see that happen. I think this is just one request from one person going fishing to see what happens.”