LANGDON — After nearly an hour of discussion, requests for legal clarification and multiple votes, the Fall Mountain School Withdrawal Committee voted, by a 7-3 majority, to create a plan for Charlestown to withdrawal from the regional school district.
According to the final version of the approved motion, the committee voted to proceed with the creation of a plan. Following the plan’s completion, they will need to vote again whether to recommend submitting it to the Board of Education.
According to New Hampshire RSA 195:25, which explains the withdrawal process from cooperative districts, if a majority of the committee votes to recommend the plan, the plan will go to the Board of Education for the state’s approval. Pending state approval, the voters from the five cooperative towns would vote whether to approve the withdrawal plan in March 2020.
Three committee members voted against creating a plan: Sarah Vogel and Francis Enig (Acworth) and Mary Henry (Langdon).
Vogel said that Acworth representatives voted against creating a plan because Acworth’s population was too small to outvote the communities who might favor withdrawal.
Henry said that she could not support creating a plan when she believed it would not benefit either Charlestown or Fall Mountain.
“I am a fact and numbers person,” Henry said. “The plan has to make sense financially to me and educationally to me. Since I cannot guarantee that it is in the best interest financially to Langdon or that is in the best interest of our educational system for Charlestown and the other towns, I must vote no.”
Scott Bushway, Charlestown’s school board representative, voted yes, despite expressing his personal reservations about withdrawing from Fall Mountain.
“I do not support separation from the district,” Bushway said. “But I’m going to vote yes to let the voters make the final decision.”
Initially the board voted by a majority of 6-4, with Billy Stahl from Walpole joining the dissenting members. However, after a lengthy discussion involving Fall Mountain’s attorney Gordon Graham, committee members realized that they misunderstood the meaning of the motion they had voted on.
Referring back to the conversation at the committee’s previous meeting on Wednesday, September 13, several committee members said the vote was supposed to be whether or not the committee supports creating a withdrawal plan. RSA 195:25 allows the committee to vote against a withdrawal request without having to create the plan.
But Charlestown resident Terry Spilsbury pointed out that the original motion, read by committee chair Albert St. Pierre, actually stated that the committee would create a plan to submit to the Board of Education, regardless of whether committee members approved the final plan.
Graham attributed some of the confusion to ambiguity within the statute’s language.
“It’s an odd statute in that it allows you to recommend withdrawal without ever seeing the plan,” Graham said. “How do you recommend withdrawal without knowing what you’re buying? That’s worse than Brexit.”
The committee ultimately voted to reconsider the motion and amended the original to include a requirement for the committee to approve the completed plan.
The committee also voted to ask the Board of Education to grant them an extension until December 1 to submit a plan. The state’s deadline for submission is November 1, but after reviewing the contents that will need inclusion in the plan, the committee concluded that too many details need to be resolved. The most complicated of these may be revising the agreements between the four remaining towns over what portions each community will pay into the district.