Town Meeting: Rivals for Croydon School Board were once allies 


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-13-2023 2:13 PM

CROYDON — Jody Underwood and Angi Beaulieu were allies on the Croydon School Board during a fierce battle over education policy that led to a major change in state law.

That they are now opponents, with Beaulieu challenging Underwood, the current board chair, in Tuesday’s election, speaks volumes about how last year’s budget battle has changed the terms of the education debate in Croydon.

“Somebody needs to step up and protect what we worked so hard for with school choice,” Beaulieu said in a phone interview.

Underwood, who has served on the board since 2010, is running again to try to improve learning, she said in a phone interview.

“It’s to move into the 21st century,” she said of her plans. The old ways haven’t worked, and too few children are meeting the standards set for them.

Tuesday’s vote will likely serve as a referendum on last year’s annual meeting, when Underwood’s husband, Ian, proposed to cut the school budget from $1.7 million to $800,000, on the grounds that $10,000 per pupil was enough to educate Croydon’s 80 schoolchildren. A small turnout of voters at the annual school district meeting approved it by a vote of 20-14.

The backlash was swift. The $800,000 budget wasn’t enough to send Croydon students to the high schools of their choice, which include the public schools in Newport and Sunapee and Newport Montessori School, among others. Croydon residents, Beaulieu among them, formed We Stand Up for Croydon and organized a subsequent vote that required a majority of the town’s voters to be present, and the budget was restored by a count of 377-2.

Underwood said she opted not to vote on the budget, at both the first and second meetings. (Ian Underwood didn’t attend the second meeting and had urged voters to stay home in the hope of denying the assembly a quorum.)

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Following the second vote, members of We Stand Up for Croydon called on Underwood and Aaron McKeon, another School Board member who supported the budget cut, to resign. Both have stayed on the board.

The parallels between Croydon’s original push for school choice — which saw the School Board, led by Underwood and Beaulieu, start to pay for private schooling, counter to state law, then withstand a lawsuit filed by the state — and last year’s ploy to reduce funding — also a wildcat effort to use the power of the purse to alter education policy — are hard to miss.

But for Beaulieu, a 45-year-old Croydon native who attended the town’s K-4 Croydon Village School and Newport High School, the first step made sense, but the second did not.

“My goal with school choice was to provide more options for children in our community, some of whom were not a good fit for public school,” Beaulieu said. Her own children attended the Newport Montessori School, part of what sparked the battle between Croydon and the state.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, came to town to sign the so-called Croydon Bill, in 2017.

When she served on the board alongside Underwood, from 2011 to 2019, Beaulieu was glad to have her as an ally. But she feels now that Underwood has “a long-term goal, which I believe is more about not paying for public education,” said Beaulieu, who is a project manager at Sugar River Kitchens, Bath and Flooring in Grantham.

Underwood and her husband moved to Croydon in 2007 as part of the Free State Project, a libertarian effort to turn New Hampshire into a less-governed, free-market state. Beaulieu said that until last spring, she wasn’t aware of the project’s long-term plans.

Both candidates acknowledged that the cost of sending students to public schools is increasing. Tuition to Newport schools, which many Croydon students attend for grades five through 12, is increasing by 8% next year, Underwood said. Croydon keeps a much lower property tax rate than surrounding towns, and many residents live there for that reason.

The roughly 40% of Croydon voters who skipped the vote last spring to restore the school budget would like to see the School Board continue to pursue education options that cost less, Underwood contends. Officials in Croydon and at the New Hampshire Department of Education have been considering options such as learning pods, small groups of students that would use online resources provided by private contractors, a model that might not require as many teachers.

“We’ve been supporting teachers as a jobs program for a very long time, and I’d rather see the focus on the students,” Underwood said.

Underwood, 62, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she attended John Dewey High School, a public school that opened in 1969. She has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Hofstra University, on Long Island, and a master’s in computer science from Rutgers University, in New Jersey. She earned a doctorate in science and technology education from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, Israel. She works for BlueHalo, a Rockville, Md.-based company focused mainly on national defense.

Her primary career focus has been in using computers to aid learning. In her time on the Croydon School Board, she has been dismayed at how little progress she’s seen.

“If we get 50% of our kids graduating from these schools who can’t read, then we’re failing,” Underwood said.

“I don’t see a lot of innovation happening, and I want to see innovation,” she added.

There are other options for lowering costs, Beaulieu said.

“We’ve never tried to negotiation tuition with any of our receiving districts,” she said.

Some of the innovations brought up last year as solutions to the draconian budget cut might have found favor with Croydon residents, if they’d been introduced more gradually, Beaulieu said.

“But now, after what they did ... people are going to be very hesitant,” she said. “They’re not going to be open-minded to it.”

Underwood agreed that introducing pod schools and other innovations as a way to deal with the budget cut last year wasn’t ideal. Since then, she’s reached out to Beaulieu to talk about education, but her former ally hasn’t responded. Their differences seem clear.

“I wasn’t fighting for school choice to take money away from public schools,” Beaulieu said.

In one respect, Beaulieu’s campaign for the School Board is similar to her first run: In 2011, she defeated Ian Underwood, by a count of 65-27.

Alex Hanson can be   reached at or 603-727-3207.

CORRECTION: Jody Underwood didn’t vote on the Croydon School District budget last year. An earlier version of this story misstated how she voted.