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Watch: Croydon School Board Members Appear in Video Promoting School Choice

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2016 11:16:54 PM
Modified: 12/8/2016 9:50:21 AM

Croydon — Members of the Croydon School Board on Wednesday appeared in a new video to promote school choice in New Hampshire, offering testimonials about their fight against state officials regarding the board’s payments of private tuition with public money.

Over the past year, the board has taken a battle with New Hampshire Department of Education officials, who say the practice is illegal, all the way to the state Supreme Court.

With the victory of Gov.-elect Chris Sununu, a Republican executive councilor who has voiced support for the Croydon school choice policy, board members are gearing up for a renewed political effort.

In a two-minute documentary-style video released on Wednesday on YouTube, members of the School Board spoke of the benefit that they said their school choice policy had provided to parents and children — in some cases, to board members’ own children.

“Greysan’s Story,” proclaims the title card, set over a shot of a placid lake.

Greysan Beaulieu, the video goes on to explain, is the daughter of School Board Chairwoman Angi Beaulieu.

After graduating from the Croydon Village School, a K-4 institution that then had about 30 students, the younger Beaulieu struggled in the much larger Newport Middle High School, her mother said.

“It was very intimidating,” Angi Beaulieu says in the video. “She would cry all the way to school. It got to a point where she was failing classes.”

Croydon’s public school offering ends at fourth grade, after which parents may send their children to neighboring towns’ schools.

Greysan, and eventually another child of Beaulieu’s, enrolled at the private Newport Montessori School under Croydon’s tuition policy. The town paid the children’s tuition of about $8,000 annually per student using tax money — a savings, Beaulieu notes in the video, compared to tuition at the Newport public school.

“She’s in eighth grade now,” Beaulieu says of her daughter in the video. “There’ve been no tears.”

Beaulieu could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

At the time that state education officials filed suit seeking to block this practice, another of the children attending Montessori with public money was Beaulieu’s nephew.

The second part of the video is largely devoted to an explanation of the history of school choice, which advocates say has long-standing precedent in New England.

“Town tuitioning has a history in New England, and that’s been going on for 150 years,” said Jody Underwood, a School Board member who serves as the body’s school choice liaison.

Vermont and Maine now have a version of the rule that Croydon is seeking to implement, Underwood said in an interview on Wednesday.

In the video, Underwood is identified as a fellow for the Granite Institute, the nonprofit that sponsored the production.

J. Scott Moody, CEO of the group, said the Granite Institute was a member of the national group of libertarian and conservative think tanks known as the State Policy Network.

Headquartered in Arlington, Va., the State Policy Network aims to “promote public policy from a framework of limited government,” according to its website. News reports from the U.K. newspaper The Guardian indicate that the billionaire Koch brothers are among the national organization’s donors.

Moody declined to share the names of his institute’s major donors, but noted that it had undergone a “rebranding” this year.

Tax filings indicate that the institute’s past incorporations never exceeded revenues of $50,000 annually.

Meanwhile, the Croydon School Board is preparing to push for victory in its dispute with state officials.

The state Department of Education has secured an order in superior court that forbids the paying of Montessori tuition with public money, but six children are continuing to attend the school, according to Underwood. Their first semester’s tuition was paid from Croydon’s coffers — a subject of heated debate in court — but come January, parents will have to take on that cost themselves, Underwood said.

Underwood said in the interview that the School Board was soliciting donations to help defray those parents’ expenses, as well as the legal costs that the Newport Montessori School incurred in Croydon’s case.

A former chairwoman of the board, Underwood noted Sununu had voiced support for a bill that would have ratified Croydon’s private-school payments. The bill passed the New Hampshire Legislature but was vetoed this summer by Gov. Maggie Hassan, whom Sununu will replace next month.

Now, the legislation’s chances “look really promising,” Underwood said. “Support the bill — let’s pass it.”

Dave Abrams, a spokesman for Sununu, said on Wednesday that the governor-elect would “certainly take a look” at any pro-Croydon bill that surfaced in the coming session.

Abrams noted that Sununu had visited the Croydon School Board during the campaign to express his support, and said the governor-elect would “prioritize promoting school choice” while in office.

Although members of the School Board have emphasized that they have the overall backing of townspeople, they do have some detractors.

Lisa Fellows, a Croydon resident with three grandchildren in the town’s school, said she initially had supported the idea of expanding publicly funded choices to private schools.

Her initial reaction to the idea of school choice had been, she said, “Why not? Why not have a choice?”

What turned her off, Fellows said, was the board’s pursuit of its goal despite heavy opposition from the state.

“They have their own agenda,” she said of board members.

“I don’t think that all the public schools are bad,” she added. “You have seven choices; that’s pretty darn good. I would have liked that as a kid.”

The video features several shots of children studying in a classroom; at one point, a shot of the exterior of the Croydon Village School is followed by a shot of children indoors.

Nevertheless, Croydon Superintendent Greg Vogt said that none of the filming had taken place inside the school. “I didn’t feel comfortable,” he said by phone on Wednesday. “None of us did. The staff didn’t; the teachers didn’t, either.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.



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