GOSHEN — A proposed partnership between the Goshen School District and the Claremont and Unity schools has received approval from all participating school boards but still needs passage by Goshen residents, who will vote on the agreement at the Goshen School District Annual Meeting on March 20, 2021, at 7 p.m. at the Lempster Community School due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Goshen School Board, Claremont School Board, and Unity School Board have each approved SAU 6 is proposing a tuition rate per student of $14,100 for grades K-5 and $15,300 for grades 6-12. This tuition would include transportation services for Goshen students, though special education services would be additional costs.

Goshen, a relatively small community with about 86 students in grades K-12, does not own a school building. Instead, Goshen contractually tuitions its students into other school districts. This process requires one outside district serving as Goshen’s “anchor district,” or the primary school district for Goshen students.

In June, the Goshen School Board voted to end its anchor-partnership with the Newport School District at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

According to Goshen School Board members, Newport would not agree to Goshen’s plan to expand its school choice offering from grades 6-12 to grades K-12.

“In the past, with the Newport agreement, we had to deny any families who had children in grades K-5 from wanting to send their students to other public schools in the region,” according to a written response from Goshen School Board representatives. “This [new] contract represents Goshen School Board’s strategic commitment to provide K-12 public school choice to all families.”

Goshen families are not obligated to enroll their children in Claremont or Unity schools. The anchor district’s tuition cost represents how much Goshen will spend in per-pupil tuition for each Goshen student. Goshen families may select from a list of contracting public schools, which includes Newport.

But this agreement still faces one critical vote in March before it can come to fruition, and officials are not currently certain about the next steps should Goshen residents reject the proposal.

Goshen School Board members said they are “remaining positive about the upcoming vote” and are confident that the community will utilize the facts and information provided on the district website to support the proposed agreement.

“The Goshen School Board is doing its due diligence to keep voters informed about the proposed anchor school agreement with SAU 6, so each voter can make an informed decision at the annual meeting,” the representatives said. “This includes providing a FAQ about anchor school agreements and an on-going facts document to clarify any misconceptions or statements made outside of board meetings. The board unanimously approved this contract, while also developing a 2021-22 budget that indicates a reduction of over $10,000 or 0.55%.”

The fact sheets and informational documents about the anchor-school agreement are available on the Goshen School District website at goshenschooldistrictnh.org.

Some Goshen residents, however, remain critical of the Goshen School Board’s refusal to include private schools among the district’s approved choice options.

“I do not think the voters of Goshen will approve the tuition agreement in March,” said Goshen resident Derek Trembley. “It is clear the majority of the public feels disenfranchised and disillusioned with the actions of the Goshen School Board.”

Trembley, who serves as headmaster at Mount Royal Academy, a Catholic school in Sunapee for grades K-12, has long been a vocal advocate for private school-choice, including in Goshen. Trembley has also advocated for Goshen to include Newport Montessori School, a private school in Newport for grades K-8, as school choice for Goshen families.

“As a resident, I do think we should work to educate all children of our town, not just those who attend public school,” Trembley told the Eagle Times. “Much of this conversation in our little town can be drawn on ideological and political lines and it is just so sad to see it play out like this. Education shouldn’t be that way at all.”

Trembley said the board disregarded the results of its community survey in October, which showed that over 53% of 91 surveyed residents said they would support using public funds for tuition to private schools.

“The survey was pretty clear that the majority of the town supports entering into tuition agreements with private schools,” Trembley said.

The survey also showed that only four of the 45 surveyed families with school aged children would currently want to send their children to Claremont or Unity schools.

“The school board is actively promoting SAU 6 over and against other school districts,” Trembley said. “Parents are extremely upset with the lack of communication and any late attempt to communicate is likely ill fated.”

The Goshen School Board, when voting not to consider private school options, cited concerns including the differing educational standards and measures between public and private models and potentially higher costs to send special education service providers to private schools, rather than at a public school which already contracts for in-house services.

Additionally, Goshen School Board Chair Allen Howe worried about Goshen battling similar lawsuits as a town like Croydon because its private school choice plan does not include any religious schools.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Espinoza v. Montana, is now challenging the constitutionality of New Hampshire’s separation clause that prohibits the use of public money toward religious schools. Suits against Croydon and other communities claim that Croydon’s policy discriminates against some private schools solely because of their religious affiliation.

Howe noted that if Goshen included any private school as a district choice, the town could then be subject to a lawsuit for religious discrimination.

Goshen board members said they have not found a specific set of guidance should a district’s voter fail to approve the proposed anchor agreement, as there does not appear to be a historical precedent for that situation.

“We will continue to do our due diligence and do our best to be prepared for the vote in March,” board representatives said.

Editor’s Note: This article, originally published in the Tuesday, Dec. 22, edition of the Eagle Times, has been amended to reflect the fact that Unity indeed approved a proposed tuition agreement which would establish SAU 6, which comprises the Claremont and Unity school districts, as the “anchor” district for Goshen, and did not, as the article initially claimed, vote 2-2 on the measure. The article has also been amended to correctly state that the vote will be held during the Goshen School District Annual Meeting on March 20, 2021, rather than on town meeting day.

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