Thank you for your interest in and support of the Valley News. We need to raise $60,000 to host journalists Frances Mize and Alex Driehaus for their one-year placements in the Upper Valley through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

State Wants Croydon Officials to Recoup July Tuition Payment

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/7/2016 12:22:37 AM
Modified: 9/8/2016 5:08:52 PM

Newport — State officials have asked a Superior Court judge to hold the Croydon School Board in contempt of court for using tax money to pay children’s private school tuition in the face of an order barring the practice.

Six children in Croydon are set to attend the private Newport Montessori School, with the first half of their 2016-17 year’s tuition — about $24,000 — paid for by the town, despite a July court decision that forbade the board from sending students to private institutions with public funds.

Croydon sent a check in late July, four days before Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker issued a permanent injunction against the payments. Now, state officials are concerned the children will spend another year in private school on the public’s dime.

“Your honor, this is ridiculous,” Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards told Tucker during a hearing on Tuesday afternoon in Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport. “This situation has been completely caused by the Croydon School Board.”

Although Croydon sent its payment on July 25, before the July 29 ruling, the Newport Montessori School did not cash the check until Aug. 2, according to a stamp on a copy of the check submitted into court.

During the hearing, a fired-up Edwards argued that both the Montessori and the School Board had “unclean hands” and had made a “risky and careless move” by putting the children back in private school when a ruling had been imminent.

“They shouldn’t be there,” Edwards said of the students. “They are there unlawfully. The Croydon School Board has acted unlawfully.”

Attorneys for Croydon, however, say School Board members have no control over the matter. The newly created SAU 99, which serves the Croydon School District, asked for the money back after the ruling, but Christy Whipple, head of school at the Montessori, refused to refund it, the lawyers said.

Whipple did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, but Croydon’s counsel provided a copy of an email in which she declined to reimburse the district, saying the money already had been spent.

“Just because there was a potential (the board members) could lose the case, they’re supposed to pull the students out of private school?” asked Sean List, who along with former state Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas represents Croydon.

Furthermore, List argued, board members cannot prevent parents from making their own enrollment decisions with the Montessori.

Croydon’s own educational system only goes through fourth grade, after which its residents send children to schools in nearby towns.

At the hearing, List said he “took offense” to suggestions that he or board members had intended to defy the court.

“The Croydon School Board has complied in good faith with this court’s order, and we’re here trying to sort this out,” he said. “And generalized mudslinging isn’t solving anything.”

Edwards had a sharp exchange with School Board Chairwoman Angi Beaulieu, whose two children and nephew attend the school.

Edwards called the situation an example of “self-dealing,” and Beaulieu countered that she was “not the exception to the rule,” although she allowed that no other board members had children at the Montessori.

Before Beaulieu took the stand, Croydon’s new superintendent, Gregory Vogt, testified that he had sent the check in July because Whipple, the Montessori head of school, had been pressing him for money due in June.

“We were making the payment in good faith based on the fact that we had a bill,” he said.

Vogt said he joined the district in May after retiring in 2015 as superintendent in Plainfield. Croydon separated from SAU 43, which it shared with Newport, and became its own district, known as SAU 99, early this summer.

No decision came at Tuesday’s hearing, though Edwards asked Tucker to find the Croydon School Board in contempt of court.

She said Tucker should either order the Newport Montessori School to refund the money or force individual board members to repay it.

Tucker said the situation was a “difficult issue,” and said he would have to think about the officials’ request

He said the payment and his court decision had occurred close enough in time “so that one could infer there was something going on” to keep the children in private school.

The Croydon School Board, meanwhile, has appealed Tucker’s July decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Last month, Tucker denied a request from Croydon to stay his injunction while the higher court heard the case, saying the School Board’s arguments were not legally plausible.

“Many cases are close calls,” he wrote, “but I do not see this as one of them.”

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

Correction

 A July 25 check from the Croydon School District to the private Newport Montessori School, sent just days before a July 29 court ruling that prohibited such payments, was deposited on Aug. 2, according to a bank receipt. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date for the deposit.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy