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Tuition Rules Croydon Meeting



Sunday, March 15, 2015
Croydon — The fallout of the state Department of Education’s ruling that the Croydon School District’s practice of tuitioning students to private schools is unlawful dominated discussion at the school’s annual meeting Saturday afternoon.

Croydon School Board Chairwoman Jody Underwood said the board plans to challenge the Education Department’s decision because some students find private schools to be a better fit for them than their public counterparts.

“Some kids will do better in Montessori than Newport Public Schools,” Underwood said. “That’s why we’re fighting. It’s about the children.”

The Department of Education sent a letter to SAU 43 Superintendent Cindy Gallagher in February informing her that state law doesn’t support Croydon’s practice of using taxpayer funds to send children to private schools.

The state allowed the four students — who attend the Montessori School in Newport and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden — to stay there for the rest of the year. But in the future, the school could receive less state funding as a sanction for violating state law.

As a result, Croydon voters on Saturday added $15,000 to the proposed school budget, approving a sum of just under $1.25 million.

Gallagher, who attended the meeting, told voters that the state has not informed the school the amount of revenue it will not receive, so Gallagher calculated that at worst, that total would be just over $39,000 — the cost to tuition the four students to the private schools.

“I’m giving the worst-case scenario, which is the tuition,” she said.

Underwood asserted that state law supports Croydon’s current practice, and even if it does not, the law should be changed. The School Board at the meeting circulated a petition asking for voters to support the board’s fight to continue to send students to those private schools.

Underwood also noted that some New Hampshire districts are permitted to send students to schools not approved by the state Department of Education, noting that Lyme sends students to schools in Vermont, while Chatham, N.H., sends students to Fryeburg Academy across the border in Maine.

“There is precedent for what we’re doing,” Underwood said.

The meeting attendees decided to go through the budget line-by-line, a process that took 21/2 hours but allowed voters to increase the amount of money to be spent on tuition students. Voters increased the line item for elementary school tuition from $187,726 to $201,676.

Voters also added $5,500 to the legal expenses line item, in large part to complete its withdrawal from the “authorized regional enrollment area” with Newport and to negotiate a new tuition agreement with Newport. Some of the money may also be used to contest the state ruling against Croydon’s practice of using tuition money for students attending private schools.

Board members said they would also look for lawyers willing to represent the school pro bono.

While about 50 people filled Town Hall when the school meeting convened at 1 p.m., attendance dwindled as approving the budget dragged on, but after that process completed, voters moved on to the rest of the warrant.

At the urging of the School Board, voters rejected an article that would place $85,375 into a capital reserve fund to buy a new school bus. Board members said the current school bus does not yet need to be replaced.

Residents also decided to place $50,000 into the capital reserve fund for special education, a sum recommended by the board. Voters also agreed to place $10,260 into a capital reserve fund for facilities to repair or replace a roof at the school, which is prone to leaks.

About 40 voters attended the town portion of the meeting Saturday morning, during which residents by voice vote approved a town budget proposal of $403,900, which included a highway budget of $175,000. Residents passed all the articles on the warrant, and one money item was amended.

An amendment by Road Agent David Hooley lowered the amount of an appropriation for a new dump truck from $153,895 to $138,453, and the sum to be raised by taxes from $32,606 to $30,091. Voters approved the amended article.

Hooley said buying a new, 2016-model dump truck would be a benefit to the town’s road crew, and noted that the body of the current dump truck dates to 1989.

“It’s well past its time,” Hooley said of the aging vehicle.

Voters also accepted a bequest totaling $50,220 for the Town Office Building capital reserve fund from former resident Harry Van Santford Jr., who died in 2013. Residents described him as a friendly man who kept to himself, and were thankful for his generosity.

“He was a kind man, a brilliant soul,” said Jane Dearden.

Croydon Police Chief Richard Lee encouraged voters to appropriate $39,440 to run the department next year. He said the sum is slightly less than the current budget, due in part to cheaper fuel costs.

In the future, Lee said, he would like to install a body camera on his uniform, a measure some residents questioned as unnecessary. Lee said that, as the lone member in the department, he has no other officers who can corroborate his version of events in affidavits and in court.

“It’s my say against theirs. I have no backup,” Lee said.

Having a body camera to document his interactions with suspects, Lee said, and would help prosecutors in court.

The final article on the warrant asked voters to increase the veterans tax exemption from $100 to $500.

Gail Hedrington spoke in favor of the article, and said it is important to recognize veterans for their service.

“They’re good citizens to have and we should encourage them to move here,” she said.

Selectman Steve Cunningham, who is himself a Vietnam-era veteran, said the amount of the exemption was not important. Rather, the tax break is a way for towns to thank those who have served. He said he witnessed service members being treated poorly by the public while he was in uniform.

“There were people who would spit on you and call you names,” Cunningham said. “It was only a few years ago that I was first thanked for my service.” Voters amended the article to increase the exemption to $250, and passed it by a ballot vote of 34-9.

Correction

Voters at Croydon’s annual school district meeting on Saturday added $5,500 to the budget for legal fees, in large part to complete its withdrawal from the “authorized regional enrollment area” with Newport and to negotiate a new tuition agreement with Newport. Some of the money may also be used to contest a state ruling against Croydon’s practice of using tuition money for students attending private schools. An earlier version of this story omitted the primary purpose for the appropriation.