Cooperative School Committee to meet - Matt Upton

Attorney Matt Upton of Drummond Woodsome of Portland, Maine, will give a presentation to the group on cooperatives along with guidance in the creation of one. (COURTESY PHOTO)

CONWAY — The MWV Cooperative District Planning Board is set to hold its first meeting Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Professional Development Center at Kennett Middle School.

The meeting comes almost 20 years to the day from when the first eight-town cooperative planning board voted to dissolve following an unsuccessful attempt to form its own school district.

According to RSA 195:1, a cooperative school district is "a district composed of two or more school districts of the state associated together under the provisions of this chapter and may include either the elementary schools, the secondary schools or both.”

Eight towns from SAU 9 and SAU 13 — Albany, Bartlett, Conway, Eaton, Freedom, Jackson, Madison and Tamworth — all voted in favor at their 2020 annual school district meetings of exploring the formation of a cooperative school district planning committee.

The committee will be made up of three people from each town with at least one member from a school board.

Conway will be represented by Randy Davison and Joe Lentini of the Conway School Board, along with former board member and selectman Mark Hounsell.

Bartlett is being represented by school board member Scott Grant, along with former school board member and selectman Gene Chandler and citizen Bob King.

Jackson will be represented by current school board members Jerry Dougherty and Darlene Ference and former board member Jessica DellaValla.

“We should have 24 people at the table,” SAU 9 Superintendent Kevin Richard said by phone Tuesday. “We’ll get the ball rolling to establish some direction moving forward.”

The first order of business, following introductions, will be the election of a chairman; elections of a clerk/treasurer; and the setting of meeting dates, times and location.

Richard said attorney Matt Upton of Drummond Woodsome of Portland, Maine, will give a presentation to the group on cooperatives along with guidance in the creation of one.

According to the Drummond Woodsmen website, Upton for nearly 30 years “has served the legal needs of New Hampshire school districts and municipalities on a broad range of labor, employment, municipal and education law matters.”

Also on the agenda will be the “location of meeting minutes," “high-level topics” and "subcommittees."

Richard thinks the meeting will last in the neighborhood of 90 minutes, which would lead into the SAU 9/SAU 13 Joint Board meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. in the same room.

According to Richard, the 20-year tuition agreement for Kennett High School went into effect July 1, 2007, and is set to expire June 30, 2027, but it may terminate "at the end of such minimum term if either party gives the other, at any time prior to the expiration of the 17th fiscal school year ending June 30 of such minimum term, written notice of such termination.”

Basically, by 2024, towns must decide whether to continue with the tuition agreement, which goes onto a year-to-year basis after 2027.

Richard said it makes sense to start examining the choice now because "if you decide to form a cooperative district ,whether it’s K-12, whether it’s K-6 or (early childhood) through 6, or for the middle school ... there is a process districts would have to go through from a planning standpoint and notification standpoint to your constituents at your town meetings.”

In 2000, with the former Kennett High School having outgrown its current location (in today's middle school, where there were six portable classrooms), there was talk of two, three and six-town cooperatives, but ultimately all eight towns came together to try to creatre a new (7-12) high school and a career and technical center.

But it wasn’t a path without a few potholes. Countless meetings were held leading to the eight towns all putting an article on the school warrants on whether to create the eight-town cooperative district. The first votes were cast on March 14, 2001. The article easily passed in Conway, 981-516; in Eaton, 54-2; in Albany, 52-12; and in Freedom, 108-44.

However, six days later, the co-op essentially died when the people of Jacksons said no by a wide margin, 164-43.

Vicki Harlow, Bartlett School Board chair at the time, estimated it would cost $38,000 to educate one of Jackson’s students in the cooperative, while some of the other towns would pay about $7,000 per student. That sealed the vote for the townspeople.

On April 6, 2001, Bartlett also overwhelmingly defeated the article, 361-70. Chief among the reasons for the lopsided vote was that citizens did not want to dissolve its seventh and eighth-grade middle school. Bartlett also did not support the tuition calculations.

The eight-town cooperative planning board disbanded Sept. 20, 2001.

In the spring of 2003, towns approved a 20-year tuition contract for a new $46 million high school in Conway. The formula for operating expenses is based 35 percent on equalized property valuation and 65 percent on the number of students. Capital costs are based 100 percent on equalized valuation for the 9-12 eight-town high school.

Conway voters approved the bond for the new high school Nov. 5, 2003. The vote was 1,823-1,090.

"It's an absolutely great day for the valley and an absolutely great day for the kids of the valley and my thanks go out to the voters of Conway — I can't thank them enough," then-SAU 9 Superintendent Carl Nelson said. “A heck of a lot of people put the time and effort in to make this possible. To everyone, thank you!"

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