SAU 21 Talks Withdrawal

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By Rachel Grace Toussaint

Hampton Union, August 12, 2003

HAMPTON - An independent Hampton school district could be up and running by July 1, 2005, if voters approve Hampton’s withdrawal from SAU 21.

If Hampton citizens approve the warrant article in March, K-8 schools only would separate from School Administrative Unit 21.

Meanwhile, members of the Hampton School District SAU 21 Withdrawal Study Committee are working to gather information to present to voters and the State Board of Education.

During its Thursday night meeting, the committee discussed various matters regarding the possible withdrawal, including cost, transportation and misconceptions.

Currently, according to figures prepared by Fred Engelbach, assistant superintendent of SAU 21, Hampton’s share of the SAU costs comes in at $400,134 - an amount higher than any of the other entities in the SAU, which includes Hampton Falls, North Hampton, Seabrook, South Hampton and Winnacunnet High.

What many committee members stressed, however, was that the withdrawal is not in the name of cost-effectiveness.

"That’s not how we’re selling this," said Sandra Nickerson, vice chairwoman and secretary of the committee. "We know the costs will be more than they are now, but focus is what we’re after - local control and focus on the Hampton School District."

According to the committee, roughly 1,500 Hampton citizens voted for this withdrawal study last March.

"And the people voted for this because they can’t see what they’ve gotten for $400,000 over the past 10 years," said committee member Brian Warburton.

The committee also addressed rumors that Hampton students would leave Winnacunnet High School as part of the plan.

"Winnacunnet is its own co-op, and Hampton will always be a part of Winnacunnet," said Nickerson. "We want the Winnacunnet High School addition to be passed in March; and we don’t want Hampton voters to vote against the addition because they think their kids won’t be attending the high school."

If voters do approve Hampton’s withdrawal from SAU 21, other towns must foot a higher portion of the SAU 21 district bill.

According to Engelbach’s figures, Hampton Falls would pay roughly $10,000 more per year of the district share, while North Hampton’s increase would be more than double that amount.

Bruce Casassa, a member of the Seabrook School Board, present at the meeting to gather information, noted that Seabrook has looked into withdrawal as well. Yet, he said his community has found that, while the transition may improve education, it’s certainly not cost-effective. The cost of soliciting transportation alone for students can be astronomical, he said.

"We’ve already looked into negotiating a transportation contract, and they said the costs would not go up," said John Woodburn, chairman of the Withdrawal Committee.

One reason why, Woodburn said, is that the committee, as part of its proposal, doesn’t intend to include a new and separate bus system for Hampton.

SAU 21 Superintendent Jim Gaylord, who serves on the committee as a nonvoting member, had other concerns for the town of Hampton, should the withdrawal be approved.

"The No Child Left Behind legislation coming through is a huge undertaking that will cost you a lot of money," cautioned Gaylord. "The legislation basically says, here are a lot of rules, find the money to deal with them, and it scares the living daylights out of me what the costs would be for you as an individual school district."

Woodburn asked, however, how the costs could be any different for Hampton than they would be for SAU 21 as a whole.

"Being a part of SAU 21," Gaylord replied, "there’s a bigger umbrella to spread the financial burden under."

But Woodburn said he still felt withdrawal is imperative.

"This is probably the fourth time we’ve (looked into withdrawing)," said Woodburn. "The system doesn’t work; it’s just too big."

The committee also discussed their impending dealings with the State Board of Education.

According to Woodburn, once the committee develops a plan, it will send it to the state Board of Education, which will either approve the proposal or send it back with adjustments.

Once accepted by the state, the proposal would go before a public hearing. Voters would then get the finished plan in March, and, for the article to pass, they must ultimately approve the proposal by the required 60 percent.

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