District Wants To Break Up

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, March 6, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

HAMPTON -- Hampton school officials say it doesn't make sense for the town to remain in School Administrative Unit 21, especially when it pays the lion's share of the budget, but doesn't get as much in return.

Hampton pays 40 percent of SAU costs, but receives less than 40 percent of the SAU's attention, according to Hampton School Board Chairwoman Sandra Nickerson.

Currently Hampton shares a superintendent with five other districts, it doesn't have a voice in the SAU budget and, at times, is held hostage by decisions made by school boards in other member towns.

That is why Nickerson and others want voters to support Hampton's bid to withdraw at the March 13 election.

"I honestly believe that it's in the best interest of the students and the taxpayers to allow us to do this," said Nickerson. "We need a superintendent that is going to concentrate fully on Hampton's needs."

If voters approve withdrawing from the six-district SAU, Hampton will have its own superintendent for students K-Grade 8. Hampton students in Grades 9-12 will continue to attend Winnacunnet High School as a cooperative high school.

The Hampton Withdrawal Committee said a main reason why it believes Hampton should withdraw is because it wants a superintendent to be able to focus 100 percent on Hampton's needs.

Currently, the superintendent's time is spent putting out fires in all six districts rather than planning for the future, according to Nickerson.

The Hampton School District wants a superintendent to devote his or her time in improving test scores and reaching the goal of No Child Left Behind, which requires all students to test proficient by 2014. Another benefit in withdrawing would be a cost savings, Nickerson said.

Hampton's cost this year to belong to SAU 21 is $435,087 and in 2008 the figure would swell to $443,874.

School officials said the cost under a Hampton SAU during the first year would only be $439,730, a projected savings of $4,144.

The Hampton School Department would only have to hire four new positions: a superintendent, business manager and two support staff.

The new office for the Hampton's SAU would be housed in the Marston Elementary School.

But not everyone is in favor of withdrawing, including a Winnacunnet School Board member and the teachers union.

Winnacunnet School Board member Richard Goodman said he is against the move because he believes a K-12 district needs one educational leader to maintain consistency. "We should all be on the same page when it comes to curriculum for every student to succeed at Winnacunnet and in life," Goodman said.

But Nickerson said that argument doesn't hold up because every school district is not on the same page.

All of the districts within SAU 21 are separate, she said, and every district has its own unique needs and educational philosophy.

SAU 21 Superintendent James Gaylord said the only way for everyone to be on the same page would be to eliminate separate school boards and have just one SAU 21 School Board.

"And that will never happen because none of these towns want to give up local control," Gaylord said.

Gaylord said the reason why SAU 21 was established was to share cost of services among area towns. He said he believes it would be in Hampton's best interest to withdraw considering the size of the district. Hampton serves 1,267 students in three different buildings: Centre School, Marston and Hampton Academy.

The teachers union is also against the move, calling it politically motivated.

"It is the opinion of SEA that it would be imprudent for Hampton to withdraw from the SAU as there is no guarantee of improved educational benefits, is fiscally unwise, and is unnecessary," said Andrew Gushee, president of the Teachers Union. Members of the Hampton Withdrawal Committee said the union never brought up these concerns when it met with union representatives during the summer.

The biggest concern of the teachers union was the impact withdrawing would have on membership, the committee said. Other School Board members within SAU 21 have also expressed opposition, since they would pay more for central office services.

The withdrawal committee argues those costs could be offset since SAU 21 may want to reorganize after Hampton leaves.

This is the second time the withdrawal question has been before voters. In 2004, it received a majority vote just short of the three-fifths vote required for approval. Last year all the school districts within SAU 21 set up a committee to look at the possibility of dissolving, calling themselves a dysfunctional family.

Hampton is not the only town looking to leave SAU 21. North Hampton voters will be voting on March 13 on whether to establish a committee to investigate if withdrawing is a good idea.

For information on Hampton's bid to withdraw, visit www.sau21.org/hamptonwithdrawal.

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