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Lebanon Agrees to Fund Ledyard Charter School

  • Ledyard Charter School math and science teacher Chris Allen, right, shows Brandon Severance, a student at the school, his grades during a parent teacher conference on Nov. 9, 2017. His parents are Todd and Bridgette Severance. The family lives in Newbury, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Social studies teacher Patrick Darley meets with parent Clara Politano, of Lebanon, N.H. for a parent teacher conference at the Ledyard Charter School on Nov. 9, 2017. Politano's son attends the school. "This was the best decision I could have made," she said. Politano feels her son gets support and understanding at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • John Higgins executive director of the Ledyard Charter School, right, talks with Gene Kadish of Second Growth. Kadish does counseling and coaching at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2017

Lebanon — Several Upper Valley school districts soon will begin providing tuition funding to Ledyard Charter School, potentially staving off a financial crisis at the nonprofit high school.

The Lebanon, Grantham and Mascoma Valley Regional school boards voted recently to provide aid to the school, which caters to high school students who have difficulty in conventional classrooms. The move is expected to provide much needed stability for the school, which has long struggled to meet its financial obligations.

“The reason we’re having this discussion is that there is a real danger that the charter school is not sustainable,” Richard Milius, vice chairman of the Lebanon School Board, said before a vote on Wednesday night.

His colleagues unanimously supported a motion that provides $4,000 for each student attending Ledyard in the 2018-19 school year, up to a maximum total of $100,000.

Currently, 20 students from Lebanon attend classes at Ledyard’s downtown campus.

Grantham already provides $5,000 per year per student attending the charter school, and Mascoma contributes $4,000 annually per pupil.

State funding has failed to adequately support Ledyard’s needs, John Higgins, the school’s executive director, said on Thursday.

New Hampshire currently provides about $6,900 per student to Ledyard, he said, well below the $15,068 average state spending on a public school high-schooler.

That generally leaves Ledyard looking to grants and private donations to fill about 40 percent of its roughly $435,000 annual budget, an effort Higgins called “extremely difficult.”

The nonprofit received $106,000 in private donations during the 2014-2015 school year, followed by $116,000 in 2015-16.

School officials are predicting about $100,000 donations in the current year.

“I think the community does an incredible job,” Higgins said.

Any institution, he said, would struggle to fill a budget gap like the one Ledyard faces each year.

When the school first opened in 2009, the Lebanon School District contributed funding with the anticipation state aid would ramp up over time, said Mike Harris, a former Lebanon superintendent and member of Ledyard’s board of trustees.

“However, the state money has never really increased,” he said during an interview on Thursday. “Almost every year there has been some doubt about whether the charter school can continue.”

The school is set up through June 2018 under current estimates, but after that deficits are set to increase, according to August minutes from Ledyard’s board of trustees.

Under the board’s estimates, the school would be $12,754 in debt by the end of June, and $34,631 in the red by August.

If needed, the nonprofit also has a line of credit it can call on from Mascoma Savings Bank, Higgins said.

But it’s important that local schools begin to help, Higgins said.

“Financially, we’re looking pretty good but not great, and we still have a lot of money to raise,” he said. “The programming itself is running outstanding, but money is still an issue.”

Of the school’s 40 students, 11 are expected to graduate next spring, Higgins said. Of those, four have applied to four-year colleges, and two are dual enrolled, earning college credit at River Valley Community College.

More than 60 percent of Ledyard’s students live in households at or below the poverty line, but with the school’s help, about 60 percent graduate and go on to seek training and education opportunities beyond high school, Higgins said.

The school has also started a new robotics program and has completed its community service days with Willing Hands, an Upper Valley nonprofit that collects food that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to community organizations.

This year, students collected 1,200 pounds of corn and 700 pounds of potatoes for the group, Higgins said.

Area education officials said Ledyard’s students aren’t likely to find an adequate program elsewhere in the Upper Valley.

“I know for certain that our students would have either dropped out or they would have come back to our school and because their needs couldn’t be met in our current public school, they’d probably be out of district,” Lebanon Superintendent Joanne Roberts told the School Board on Wednesday night.

Out-of-district placement for students can cost taxpayers anywhere between $250,000 to $450,000 per student, she said.

“To try to replicate that program, if we had the space, would be hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Roberts said. “We’d have to have staffing, we’d have to develop programs that are already in place at the Ledyard Charter School.”

The Mascoma Valley Regional School Board came to a similar conclusion when it decided in July to provide tuition money, said Bob Cusick, a board member representing Enfield.

“The charter school is a real blessing to all the school districts around,” he said. “Most people agree that a lot of these kids, if they came to the school district, would not be able to survive.”

The cost of educating the charter school students back at Mascoma would be steep for the district, Cusick said, estimating it would take substantially more money than what’s now going to tuition.

At the end of the day, he said, school officials need to ask whether they’re committed to offering students an environment where they can function and thrive.

“It’s bad out there and we need everything we can to make sure these kids make it,” Cusick said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.