By Thomas P. Caldwell
FRANKLIN — Members of the Franklin School Board are hoping their counterparts in Hill will see the wisdom of establishing an AREA review board that could revise the tuition formula contained in the current Authorized Regional Enrollment Area agreement between the Hill and Franklin school districts.
The Hill board meets on Wednesday, Jan. 14, and it will take up Franklin's request that proposes using the tuition calculator the Newfound Area School District developed in its bid to accept Hill students in grades 7 through 12.
Superintendent Robert McKenney said using Newfound's formula to calculate the per-student cost to send the students to Franklin would save Hill $103,735.25 in tuition costs, compared to sending them to Newfound. Additionally, by staying with Franklin, Hill would avoid paying the $25,000 plus interest that Franklin would lose in state building aid if Hill were to sever its current agreement.
As it stands, the AREA agreement would require Hill to spend $864,847.32 to send students to Franklin next year. The figure was a surprise to everyone and when McKenney presented those figures to the Hill board last month, he said, "I sit here stunned. If we were going to fudge the numbers to win your support, we wouldn't have come up with this."
The number was high because of increased spending for Franklin schools at a time when the overall student population is decreasing.
Newfound, on the other hand, had proposed a per-pupil rate that would put total tuition at $839,917. Winnisquam, which also was competing for the Hill tuition students, came in with a cost of $712,918.
The Hill board decided to pursue a tuition agreement with Newfound while remaining part of School Administrative Unit 18 which serves Franklin and Hill.
The Franklin board, meeting on Jan. 6, voted to aggressively press Hill to remain with the city, and it sent a letter to the Hill board stating, "the Franklin School Board would ... be open to a revision of the tuition formula so that the tuition going forward would be calculated using the same formula utilized by (Newfound) in its most recent tuition proposal."
At its Jan. 12 meeting, the Franklin School Board agreed with the 10 talking points offered by Attorney Matthew Upton: There is no reason to dissolve a long-term relationship over short-term disagreements; staying with Franklin will continue a 50-year partnership; Franklin is willing to amend the AREA agreement to use Newfound's formula; Hill taxpayers could save $100,000 by engaging in an AREA review board; Franklin has comparable educational programming to Newfound; there would be less disruption to Hill students if they remained with Franklin; both Franklin and Hill should try to resolve their differences before dissolving the AREA agreement; the Franklin board would give the Hill School District a greater say in the operation of schools than Newfound would provide in a tuition agreement; and all of the necessary support systems and logistics to accommodate Hill students are already in place in Franklin.
Hill Vice-Chair Greg Husband called Franklin's proposal a good-faith effort on their part, but he said, "We're at their mercy at this point."
The Hill board, in response to Franklin's letter, wrote, "Hill School Board has had some discussions with our attorney regarding the issues raised in said letter. The board members will continue these discussions amongst ourselves at the Hill School Board meeting on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. The board anticipates that it will have a more definitive response to said letter on Thursday or Friday of this week."
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