Schoolhouse rocked: Hampton to remain in SAU21

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, March 16, 2007

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

HAMPTON -- The Hampton School District will remain a part of what some school officials call the "dysfunctional family" that is School Administrative Unit 21.

The proposal to withdraw kindergarten through eighth grade from SAU 21 needed a three-fifths vote to pass. While it received a majority during elections Tuesday -- 1,384 in favor to 1,290 against -- it wasn't enough.

"I feel like we are stuck in a bad marriage," Hampton School Board member Denyse Richter said. "I feel like we are staying together under the assumption that it's in the best interest of the kids when ultimately it really isn't."

Supporters of the withdrawal plan said they were disappointed by the results, but said voters shouldn't be surprised if the school district decides to revisit the issue.

"I truly believed that this was the best thing for the students, the taxpayers and the teachers in the town of Hampton," Hampton School Board member Rosemary Lamers said.

The main reason why school officials backed the plan to withdraw was to have more local control with a superintendent focusing 100 percent on the needs of Hampton's students.

Supporters blame the article's defeat on the opposition of the teachers union. The teachers union, Seacoast Education Association, was adamantly opposed to the move, calling it politically motivated and saying it was not in the best interest of all the students in SAU 21.

Tensions came to a boiling point when the chairwoman of the School Board accused the union of political shenanigans, including hacking into the school's Web site to delete the school committee's fact sheet regarding withdrawal.

Andrew Gushee, president of the teachers union, denied any union involvement in that incident and hopes both sides can put everything behind them and move forward.

"Hopefully now that this withdrawal question is out of the way, school officials can use this time to start working within SAU 21 to improve and strengthen it rather than trying to find ways to break it apart," Gushee said.

Brain Warburton, who served as chairman of Hampton's Withdrawal Committee, said he will not be able to forgive and forget so easily. He was upset by the misinformation he said the leadership of the union used in trying to convince voters the plan wasn't a good idea.

"The teachers union thinks they know more than the administrators," said Warburton, noting the withdrawal plan was backed by SAU 21 Superintendent James Gaylord. "The teachers union cares more about their union membership than they do about the kids."

Warburton said some of the actions of union members at the polling place were uncalled for and "embarrassing."

"We have a lot of great teachers in Hampton and throughout the district," Warburton said. "But the leadership of the teachers union leaves a lot to be desired."

The union said the same about supporters of the withdrawal plan.

Winnacunnet High School teacher Kara Coggeshall said she was verbally harassed and the recipient of an obscene gesture by a husband of a School Board member at the polls.

Winnacunnet School Board member Richard Goodman, who spoke out against the withdrawal as a resident and not in his official capacity on the board, said he hopes all the districts will move forward in making SAU 21 work for everyone involved.

Goodman said one way to do that is to have one school board for the entire SAU 21.

"My wish is that the leaders of all five towns develop a study committee to make it a K-12 cooperative district with one board and one budget," Goodman said. "That way we can save money, share services and improve education."

Lamers said she doesn't see Hampton ever going along with that idea.

"Why would Hampton, which is paying the lion's share of the cost, want to limit its representation," Lamers said.

Lamers said one of the biggest issues why she wanted to withdraw is that the districts within SAU 21 can't even agree on what the superintendent's primary function is.

"Hampton believes the superintendent's primary responsibility is to create and direct curriculum to improve academic results," Lamers said. "Others do not, and we can't change that."