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Croydon Will Ask Judge To Reconsider School Tuition Ruling

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 8/5/2016 12:12:48 AM
Modified: 8/5/2016 9:57:57 AM

Croydon — The School Board told about 30 residents at a meeting Thursday night it will ask for a reconsideration of a Superior Court ruling last week barring the use of tax dollars to pay private school tuition. If denied, the board may appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

If an appeal goes forward, the board said, it will at the same time seek a stay of the Superior Court decision in hopes of allowing six students enrolled at a Montessori school in Newport to attend there during the upcoming school year.

Board member Jody Underwood said the district’s attorneys advised the board to file an appeal but that decision has not been made yet.

“The first step is to meet with the attorneys and find out what went wrong, what are the reasons (we didn’t win) and what are our chances (of winning an appeal),” board member Jim Peschke said at the end of the hourlong meeting in Croydon Town Hall.

Peschke railed against the state Board of Education during the meeting and said it puts the interests of “big education” ahead of the public interest and that of parents to do what they believe is right for their child.

In his 10-page ruling last week, Judge Brian Tucker sided with the New Hampshire Department of Education and granted a permanent injunction against the district.

“The Croydon School Board and its members do not have the authority to grant parents the unilateral right to reassign their child from the Newport public schools to a private school, and provide public financial support for them to do so,” Tucker concluded.

Last year, Croydon sent four students to Montessori, two of whom are children of a board member, and this year six are enrolled, for which half of the $8,200 annual tuition has been paid.

When asked whether the students would attend Montessori if the stay was denied, Underwood said, “I guess not.”

“If we don’t get the stay, we will have to wait on the appeal or file another bill,” Underwood said.

The House and Senate passed legislation last session to allow districts to send students to a non-religious private school if there is no public school for the child's grade in the district but it was vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Most of those in the audience seemed to favor the board’s approach, though at least one, Amanda Leslie, said she was a parent and supporter of getting a good education but not everyone in town thought the board was doing the right thing.

The board and supporters of private school choice had a sympathetic ear in Executive Councilor and Republican candidate for governor, Chris Sununu, who said he would have signed the bill vetoed by Hassan and urged the board not to quit, in spite of the odds with the current administration.

“You have a governor and an attorney general who are not your friend and you have virtually no friends on the Board of Education,” said Sununu.

But he quickly added that Croydon has supporters of their position in the Senate, on the Executive Council and even in the Department of Education.

“I want you to know you do have friends in Concord, so keep fighting,” Sununu said. “We are watching you and hope you stick it out. Keep fighting as hard as you can.”

House candidate Spec Bowers, a former state representative from Sunapee, predicted if the GOP keeps its majority in the House and Senate and wins the governor’s race, the school choice bill 1637 that was vetoed by Hassan will be fast-tracked and passed by late February.

Senate District 8 candidate Ruth Ward, a Republican, also was in favor of Croydon’s position.

“I think parents should have options,” Ward said. “The public schools would have to rev up their programs to be competitive and get the kids they want.”

If the board goes forward with an appeal, it said it would have to raise at least another $20,000, like it did for the first round of legal fees, but sounded confident it could do so. No tax dollars have been used for the legal costs.

Resident Aime Freak, who has a child attending the Montessori school, said the debate is not about whether public or private schools are better but what the parents think is best for their child.

“I really hope we get this because then we can say we were the little town that could,” Freak said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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