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House Candidates for Sullivan County Districts Differ on Education Funding

  • Virginia Drye

  • Tanya McIntire

  • Lee Oxenham

  • Brian Sullivan

  • Margaret Drye

  • Linda Tanner



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2018

Plainfield — Democratic incumbents and their Republican challengers in two New Hampshire House districts in northern Sullivan County differ staunchly in their views of how the state ought to address school choice.

Though most candidates agree that the way the state funds education needs improvement, they differ in how it ought to be changed, and whether and how public funds ought to be used for alternatives such as private, religious and home schooling.

The 19-year-old Virginia Drye, R-Plainfield, was one of nine siblings who were home-schooled and said that families like hers are being double-billed, paying both property taxes to support public schools and their own education costs.

She said her family saved the town the cost of tuition to Lebanon High School. Plainfield has an agreement with Lebanon to send high school students there. The family continued to pay property taxes, which Virginia Drye said the town was able to use for other services.

“That’s funding that they didn’t have to spend on us,” Virginia Drye said. “But we still got educated.”

Drye and fellow school choice proponent Tanya McIntire, a Grantham Republican, are aiming to unseat two incumbents for Sullivan 1 seats, state Reps. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield, and Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham. The district includes Grantham, Plainfield, Cornish and Springfield.

Drye’s mother, Margaret, a school choice advocate who home-schooled her children, is challenging state Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Georges Mills, for a single seat representing the Sullivan 9 “floterial” district, representing Grantham, Plainfield, Cornish, Springfield, Newport, Croydon, Sunapee and Unity.

If families like hers that educate their children outside of the public school system were to get a property tax break, Virginia Drye said there would be no need to use vouchers to pay for these alternatives.

In contrast, the 68-year-old Oxenham said the state ought to do more to support public schools. For example, should the state legalize marijuana, Oxenham said it then could tax the drug and use the revenue to support public schools.

“This is how a society meets its goals,” Oxenham said. “(We) decide what we need and find ways to finance it.”

Oxenham, a former researcher at the National Academy of Sciences, said she does not like the idea of directing public money to private, religious and home schools.

Instead, she said, “If you don’t chose to use the public school system, I think you should pay for it. Taking money away from public schools to pay for other students is not a recipe for success.”

The 55-year-old McIntire, who works as a substitute teacher and in food service, asked the New Hampshire State Board of Education to determine that her son Noah McIntire’s educational situation qualifies as a “manifest educational hardship,” which could have opened the door for her to get the Grantham School District to cover the cost of the private Holderness School’s tuition, which ranges from $41,600 for day students to $63,000 for boarding students. The State Board, in a vote this summer, unanimously denied the request.

McIntire said the “Croydon Bill,” which Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed in June 2017, ought to apply to school districts such as Grantham’s, which has an agreement with Lebanon to send students there for seventh through 12th grades. The law allows towns such as Croydon that lack a public school for certain grades to send their students to nonsectarian private schools and pay the tuition with tax dollars.

In terms of addressing problems in the state’s education funding formula, McIntire said, “I don’t know. That’s something I would learn.”

The 60-year-old Sullivan, who gained his seat in a special election last November against Margaret Drye with a vote of 1,297-671, said he opposes efforts such as Senate Bill 193, a voucher-like bill that would let public funds to go into education savings accounts, which could then be used to pay for private and religious schools as well as home schooling. Sullivan said he sees it as a way of taking money away from public schools. The Legislature tabled SB 193 last session.

Sullivan, a former teacher and negotiator for the New Hampshire NEA who now serves on the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee, said he is not opposed to the Croydon Bill. Sullivan said that bill applies to a specific situation in which the community does not have a designated school to send students.

He said the state needs to re-evaluate its education funding formula because as it stands communities with lower grand list values such as Newport and Claremont struggle under high property tax rates in part to support their schools.

Such communities “need to have help to be able to have a level playing field with the rest of the state,” Sullivan said.

Guns and the Economy

The Sullivan 1 candidates also split along party lines in their opinions about the concealed-carry gun law that Gov. Sununu signed in 2017. The bill allows people, who are not otherwise barred from carrying a firearm, to carry a concealed, loaded pistol or revolver without a license.

Sullivan and Oxenham both said they oppose the law, while their Republican opponents support it.

Sullivan said he supported the previous law, which gave authority to local police chiefs to determine whether people should or shouldn’t have concealed guns.

While Oxenham said people should be able to have guns in their home for hunting and/or protection, she opposes concealed carry. She supports waiting periods and opposes bump stocks.

“There are just so many ways (in) which having guns around and available leads to tragedies,” she said.

Virginia Drye said she supports the concealed-carry law and there haven’t been problems with it.

“It makes sense,” she said.

McIntire declined to take a position on the law, saying that now that the legislation has been enacted: “It doesn’t matter what I think on this one. ... If the public doesn’t like it, they need to tell me.”

Sullivan, Oxenham and Virginia Drye all said they’d like to see the state’s minimum wage, which is linked to the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, increased. They differed in the amount of the increase and time frames for getting there. But McIntire said workers’ wages should be up to their employers.

“I favor improving the business environment in our state so that employers can raise that if they can afford to,” McIntire said.

Drye said she favors a gradual increase in the minimum wage, but she declined to provide the rate she thinks the state ought to aim for.

“That’s where the process of government comes into play,” she said. “I can’t give you the immediate answer by myself.”

Oxenham said she’d like the state to get to a $15 minimum wage, and Sullivan said he thinks the state ought to aim for between $12 and $15 per hour.

To determine the right rate for New Hampshire, Sullivan said the state’s leaders ought to look at the experiences of other communities that have implemented higher wages. He’d like to avoid increasing wages to the point that employers start reducing workers’ hours or other benefits, he said.

In setting the minimum wage, legislators ought to be “helping people, but not hindering them,” he said.

The four Sullivan 1 candidates will square off on Nov. 6.

Sullivan 9

Like those in Sullivan 1, candidates in the Sullivan 9 race are divided along party lines in their views on education.

Margaret Drye, 60, said she would like the state to support school choice through education savings accounts, as described by SB 193, the bill the Legislature tabled last session. That bill would have increased access to alternative schooling options, particularly for low-income families, according to Drye.

Drye said she would like families that are educating their children outside the public school system to receive a property tax break. As things stand now, such families are subject to the “double jeopardy” of paying their own children’s education expenses as well as contributing to the public schools, she said.

Drye said supports the Croydon Bill and would like to see it applied more broadly.

In terms of the state’s education funding formula, Drye said she is sympathetic to communities with low grand list values. But Drye said she would like to address such inequities “without going to a broad-based tax.”

The 72-year-old Tanner, who serves on the House Education Committee and is a retired Kearsarge Regional High School teacher, said the state’s education funding formula needs to be revisited because the state has downshifted costs, such as teachers’ retirement benefits and building aid, to local school districts in recent years.

It’s “all been on the backs of the local property taxpayer,” Tanner said.

Though she did not point to a specific revenue source to use to help towns with low grand list values, Tanner expressed frustration about the rollback of certain business taxes.

“When we start draining funds from the state budgets, priorities shift all over the place,” she said.

Tanner supported the Croydon Bill and said she likes that it gives local school boards some say in where students go, rather than giving complete leeway to parents.

She said she opposes the use of public money on things like vouchers to send children to private schools, especially when those schools are not held to the same standards as public institutions. For example, Tanner said that private schools don’t have to follow all discrimination laws, conduct the same background checks, or have the same facilities and programs for people with disabilities.

“Public schools are the foundation of our state and our nation,” Tanner said.

Economic Differences

Tanner and Margaret Drye also differ in their views of the state’s minimum wage.

Tanner said she would like to start by raising the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour and then go up from there. Tanner said there should be a floor set for what businesses can pay their employees and that increasing wages for the state’s lowest-paid workers — who are often in the retail sector — help local economies and help to reduce these workers’ reliance on government assistance.

“We’re subsidizing all of these stores paying a nonliving wage,” Tanner said.

Drye, on the other hand, said she supports a free-market approach and that the tight labor market is forcing many employers to pay more than the mandated $7.25 per hour.

“I think that businesses are going to find that they’re going to have to probably go higher than that for wages, but that should be up to the businesses,” Drye said.

The candidates are in agreement in their support of the concealed-carry gun law.

Tanner, a gun owner, said the state’s previous concealed carry law left too much discretion to local law enforcement. She is, however, supportive of some gun restrictions such as full background checks at gun shows and a waiting period before purchase.

Drye said she hasn’t heard of any problems with the law since its enactment.

“If you can carry a gun in New Hampshire, you should be able to carry a concealed gun,” she said.

The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire will help moderate a candidates forum, sponsored jointly by Sullivan County Democrats and the Sullivan County GOP, for the Sullivan 1 and 9 races at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday at Plainfield Town Hall on Route 12A.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.