by Thomas P. Caldwell
BRIDGEWATER/HEBRON — Following an organizational meeting at the end of April, the Bridgewater-Hebron Withdrawal Study Committee will break into subcommittees this month to begin pulling together the facts needed to assess whether it makes sense for the two towns to withdraw from the Newfound Area School District.
Bridgewater and Hebron voters at town meeting endorsed the study as authorized by RSA 195 to determine the "feasibility and suitability" of pulling out of Newfound and operating their own K-8 school, and sending their high school students to either Newfound or Plymouth.
Bridgewater Selectman Terry Murphy explained at the organizational meeting that the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School was designed to handle K-6 or K-8 but the school district currently utilizes the building for only K-5 students, after which they attend Newfound Memorial Middle School and Newfound Regional High School.
The two towns considering withdrawal had formed a village district to enable them to build their own school at a time when school enrollments were increasing but district voters were unlikely to approve a new building project while still paying for the new high school. The Bridgewater-Hebron Village District maintains the building and grounds but leases the property to the Newfound Area School District for $1 per year. The district, in turn, provides the staffing and educational materials for the school.
Two years ago, the two towns asked the Newfound Area School Board to adjust the educational configuration of the schools to provide K-8 classes at the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School so their students would remain at their school longer before going on to the high school. For that reason and because the school district has been seeing decreasing enrollment in recent years, the board asked the new superintendent, Stacy Buckley, to do a comprehensive study to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of reconfiguring the educational structure. Last November, she presented her findings which concluded the present arrangement makes the most sense.
Buckley said that adopting a K-6 or K-8 option would create the need for additional staff members while adversely affecting the district's ability to provide for unified arts and athletics and, in the case of K-6, the loss of foreign languages and algebra. She also cited the additional costs of aligning the curriculum between schools and updating the school libraries, as well as it creating scheduling problems with more lunch periods to fit in.
Murphy told the withdrawal study committee that it was because of that conclusion that the two towns decided to look into whether it would make sense to go it alone.
While the study committee was established to include all school board members as well as a selectman and alternate from each town in the school district, school board member Jeff Levesque of Groton agreed to step down after Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater challenged him about negative statements Levesque had posted on Facebook about the study. Among other things, Levesque had said the district should ban Bridgewater and Hebron students from attending Newfound for at least 15 years if they decided to withdraw now.
The committee elected School Board Chair Ruby Hill of Danbury to serve as chair, while Danbury Selectman Jim Phelps will serve as secretary. The superintendent and business manager will serve as non-voting, ex-officio members.
On a recommendation by Don Franklin of Hebron, the committee agreed to create two subcommittees, one for financial analysis and the other to look at the educational model, and those committees will be meeting on May 20 and May 28. The next full committee meeting will take place on June 16 at 6 p.m. at the high school.