CONWAY — The school board is considering a warrant article asking school district voters if they want to investigate forming a cooperative school district after receiving a request from Tamworth School District asking them to do so.
School board Chairman Joe Lentini Monday made a motion to see if the school district budget committee would recommend establishing a cooperative school district committee in accordance with RSA 195:18.
“I think we should show we are serious about looking at it at least,” Lentini said.
The motion was made while the school board was acting as the school district budget committee, which consists of the school board plus a representative from Albany School Board, Timothy Sorgi, appointed by SAU 9. A member appointed by SAU 13 is also supposed to sit on the committee, but that seat has not been filled.
Conway School Board member Courtney Burke was absent.
The motion passed 6-0-1 with school board member Joe Mosca voting present via video conference.
The school board has not voted to approve the article yet. The school board will take it up on Dec. 9.
The law says the cooperative school district committee must be made of three qualified voters one of whom would be a school board member. The committee members could be either elected at the meeting in which the committee is formed, or if the school district chooses, appointed by the moderator.
Earlier in the budget committee meeting, Superintendent Kevin Richard presented the board with an email to him from Tamworth School Board Chairman Jack Waldron who also chairs the SAU 13 board, which also covers the town of Freedom and Madison.
Waldron informed Richard that Tamworth School Board is planning to place an article on its warrant to ask voters to approve creating a committee to examine the possibility of forming a cooperative school district (at this point for grades 7-12 or 9-12 but that is subject to change).
Waldron said he believes Albany is also putting a similar article on its warrant. He said Freedom and Madison will discuss the proposal next month.
“I know that you are well aware of the timing and process necessary to study the formation of a Cooperative School District,” said Waldron. “This is the time to start that process. As I’m sure you are aware this article only forms a planning committee that can work with other districts’ planning committees to explore the feasibility of forming a cooperative school district. The planning board would create a consistent proposal for what the cooperative school district would look like. It does not impose any other commitments on the part of the districts.”
Eventually, voters from each district could vote on whether to join the district, said Waldron and Richard.
Conway is a member of SAU 9, a collection of dependent school districts from the towns of Albany, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Hart’s Location and Jackson. Students from the SAU 13 towns of Freedom, Madison and Tamworth enter Conway schools in either middle school or high school.
The SAUs provide supervision and management services to the districts.
Conway School District receives students from all of the above towns based on tuition agreements. Under the present system, the sending towns don’t have much control into how things are run.
Conway is the only receiving town for high school students. Bartlett receives middle school students from Jackson.
“In a cooperative there’s more input,” said Richard. “They want to have a say as to what the budget is in Conway for their high school, they want to have a say in what the programing looks like, they want to have a say in what the negotiations are for the collective bargaining agreements, they want to have a say on a whole lot of different things.”
So, instead of Conway School Board determining how those things run, there would be a governing board made up of representatives from the districts that choose to be involved.
There is also an SAU 9 study committee, formed in December of last year, that is looking the tuition agreements.
The Sun asked Waldron by phone about the impetus for this development.
“In 2023, we have to decide what the future of all the Kennett sending towns are,” said Waldron adding in 2023 towns will have to give notice and the agreements expire three years later. “A lot of sending towns are not totally happy with the current situation, mainly because ... Conway has complete control.”
Waldron said one possibility is a cooperative school district would be formed — probably with more or less the same school district entities that are involved now. He said lots of options could be considered.
“We just thought it would be good to start it now and see what happens,” said Waldron. “Maybe only five towns will want to go forward in this direction. I have no idea. We can’t wait till 2023 to do this. We have to have to have some lead time to find out who is interested and then, among those interested, what the possibilities are.”
Richard gave the Sun an example of how a new school district could work. He said in Amherst, there’s an Amherst School Board for the elementary school and there’s a Soughegan School District for the high school.
“If you are a resident of Amherst New Hampshire you vote on the Amherst School District budget and then you vote on the Souhegan High School Budget on the same day at two different locations, typically,” said Richard.
Richard told the Sun Tuesday that a cooperative school district had been studied before in the early 2000s.
SAU 13 Superintendent Meredith Nadeau expects the process to take multiple years. She said the committees, once formed, have three years to make a recommendation.
“There are many, many steps in this process,” said Nadeau. “There’s nothing quick or decisive about it.”