LANGDON, N.H. — The Fall Mountain Regional School Board authorized a letter stating that they are reluctant to tuition-in Charlestown students to their high school should Charlestown leave the district, citing three months of non-payment to the school district.
The school board voted on Tuesday 5-0 to notify Charlestown and the New Hampshire Board of Education (NHBoE) by letter that the board “does not feel it is the district’s best interest at this time,” due to concerns about Charlestown’s current deficit of $1.8 million in contribution to the district’s operational budget, which Charlestown shares with the towns of Acworth, Alstead, Langdon and Walpole.
“The school board has serious concerns with Charlestown’s ability to fulfill a tuition agreement in the future, since they are in default of their financial obligations to the district,” the letter stated. “Charlestown’s nonpayment of tuition would have a severe impact on the four remaining towns.”
The letter poses a serious obstacle to proponents of a Charlestown plan to form an independent school district, as the town’s plan to provide high school education was to tuition its students in grades 9-12 back into Fall Mountain Regional High School. Fall Mountain High School has a current enrollment of 465 students, according to the NHBoE.
Roughly 46% of those high school students are Charlestown residents.
The plan still needs approval from the New Hampshire Board of Education, who will meet today to decide the plan’s fate. If the State Board approves it, the plan will move to the school district’s warrant for a district-wide vote in March. Voters in both Charlestown and the combined district must pass the warrant article for Charlestown to withdraw.
Proponents of the plan, however, will need to explain their plan to educate Charlestown’s High School students without a tuition agreement from Fall Mountain. Charlestown does not have a high school and would need to find another high school with capacity to take in at least 200 Charlestown students. The nearest high school alternatives to Charlestown would be Stevens High School in Claremont and Springfield High School in Springfield, Vermont. Neither school district was contacted for this article.
Scott Wade, a member of the Charlestown ad-hoc committee that researched and formed Charlestown’s plan of withdrawal, said he wasn’t surprised by the school board’s action, as several board members have adamantly opposed the withdrawal plan.
“I feel that if it wasn’t for the payment it would have been for a different reason,” he told the Eagle Times Wednesday. “From day one, a couple of school board members on the withdrawal committee have wanted to block us from sending our kids to Fall Mountain.”
Wade said that he suspects this letter is meant as a scare tactic for the state and the voters, given the timing. He elaborated that opponents to Charlestown’s withdrawal plan worry about shouldering more cost to maintain the school district without Charlestown.
“To not accept Charlestown students would mean they will letting half the [high school] staff go and combine schools to fill the space, such as forming a district-wide middle school,” Wade said. “All the towns have made it clear over the last couple of years that they don’t want a district-wide middle school.”
The board acknowledges in its letter that they unanimously want Charlestown to remain in the district, saying that they value their relationship with Charlestown and believe the district is stronger with all five communities.
Wade said that Charlestown’s non-payment was a decision by the Charlestown Selectboard and that issue is not a matter of lacking the funds.
The Eagle Times attempted to reach members of the Charlestown Selectboard Wednesday to confirm a reason for withholding payment, but could not get a response in time for this article’s publication.
The Fall Mountain School District has also filed a civil case in Newport against Charlestown over the town’s refusal to pay the district. According to state court documents, a hearing is scheduled in New Hampshire Superior Court for Tuesday, Jan. 16.