by Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School Board has posted "recommended reading" on the school website in preparation for Monday night's planning and dialogue meeting that will focus on the possible closing of Newfound Memorial Middle School.
The school board is considering the advantages and disadvantages of closing the school, reacting to financial pressures the district is facing with declining enrollments and a loss of state aid, as well as complaints about the quality of education at the middle school. Many residents have been advocating a return to a junior-senior high school model and retaining the elementary grades at the outlying schools.
Danbury recently considered withdrawing from the seven-town school district and the towns of Bridgewater and Hebron currently are looking at withdrawal, in part because of the concerns about the middle school.
At the Sept. 8 school board meeting, a number of teachers and residents voiced support for the current educational structure and defended the middle school, questioning why the board would even consider closing it. Others faulted the school board for failing to present any information to justify the discussion and the board said it would put together a presentation for the Sept. 22 meeting.
Chair Ruby Hill of Danbury said a series of documents on the website, under the heading "Recommended Reading for the K-6 & NMMS Closure Discussion", provides information on cost per pupil, student-teacher ratios, teacher retention, teachers' salaries, and 10 years of enrollment history.
Also among the issues the school board is looking at are the amount of time students spend on buses and the advantages of keeping the current configuration that has kindergarten through Grade 5 in the individual towns, grades 6-8 in the middle school, and grades 9-12 at the high school.
Without a change, there is a possibility that Bridgewater and Hebron would leave the district to operate their own K-8 school in the building the two towns built and currently lease to the school district for $1 per year. It would tuition its high school students to either Plymouth, which offers a more attractive per pupil cost, or to Newfound Regional High School.
Groton might decide to follow their lead, rather than send its elementary students all the way to Bristol, Danbury, or New Hampton. Most of Groton's elementary students now attend the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School.
Another factor in the discussion is the town of Hill's interest in ending its enrollment agreement with Franklin and sending students to either Newfound or Merrimack Valley. If they were to come to Newfound, it would partially compensate for the loss in the local student population and bring an infusion of tuition revenue to the district.
Monday's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.
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