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Friday, September 11, 2015

Parents: We want to stay with Timberlane

 Sandown residents tell minority committee they oppose leaving distrct

By Kiera Blessing 
SANDOWN — During a tense and often-heated meeting of the Sandown withdrawal minority committee Wednesday night, dozens of parents and town residents said they strongly oppose withdrawing from the Timberlane Regional School District and felt lied to about the nature of the study being conducted.

Nearly 40 people filled the small meeting room at the Sandown Fire Department where the Sandown Feasibility of Withdrawal from Timberlane Regional School District Minority Committee met. Most of the attendees who spoke said they were against withdrawal; no one advocated for withdrawal at the meeting.

Many of those present said they felt they had been deceived about the nature of the study, and had believed, when voting at Town Meeting in March, that the study would only gather data. Both committees — the "majority" committee, working in conjunction with Timberlane, and the minority committee — plan to submit their findings to the state's Board of Education, which has some parents worried that they could be forced out of Timberlane.  

State law says that if the Board of Education approves a withdrawal plan in either the majority or minority report, the plan will then go to a vote of the four towns in the district. Parents at the meeting expressed concerns that Atkinson, Plaistow and Danville would vote in favor of Sandown's withdrawal, effectively forcing the small town out of the district.  

Cathy Gorman, the vice chair of the minority committee, said the district would first have to "prove" that it is financially feasible and otherwise suitable for Sandown to withdrawal before the Board of Education would approve a withdrawal plan.  

"Timberlane and the majority committee cannot just boot you out of the district," Gorman said.   

The residents were not so easily assured.  

"There is nothing you can show me or tell me that is going to change my mind. I don't want to withdraw, period, end of story," said Jon Goodman, a Sandown parent. "Don't say we can't get kicked out. You ... told us at deliberative session this was a study and nothing more."  

Some residents at the meeting initially advocated for the minority committee to be disbanded completely; the committee countered that dissolving the minority committee would leave all power with the majority committee and their ruling as to the feasibility and suitability of the withdrawal.

"I want to ensure that regardless of what the majority committee does, that we are prepared to protect Sandown. That is my goal for the minority report," Gorman said. "I will have a report ready to ensure that Sandown is well-represented when a report goes to the Board of Education."

Gorman and the rest of the committee assured parents and community members at the meeting that a consideration of the suitability of the withdrawal is how parents and students feel about it. Even if withdrawal is financially feasible, they said, the Board of Education will consider the suitability of the plan — in other words, if it will be beneficial to parents, students, and the community.

"The kids are important, where they want to go. The community as a whole is important, the impact to the community. We're looking at all of that," Gorman said.

Buco added that she established the minority committee because she felt Sandown did not have enough representation on the majority committee, and said the majority committee refused her request to add members from Sandown. The law does not address formation of a minority committee, but rather says only that the town that voted for the study can submit a minority report if the committee finds the withdrawal is not feasible or suitable.  

Rob Collins, chairman of the Sandown Feasibility of Withdrawal Committee, said Thursday that if the minority committee is not disbanded, it "would force our hand to submit a report with a withdrawal plan."  

Collins said this is because the committees have vastly different opinions of what the buyout would be. While the majority committee estimates it would cost Sandown at least $6.4 million to withdrawal, the minority committee said that does not take into account Sandown's partial ownership of the other Timberlane school buildings. The minority committee estimates that Timberlane may even owe the town money.  

"To not have great detail in that amount of money from our end and to allow them to write a report and withdrawal plan that said zero dollars would be a disservice to the towns of Atkinson, Plaistow and Danville," Collins said. "We would find ourselves in a position where we're having to defend not only the interest of the students, but the financial interest of the town as defined by state law."  

Still, Collins said that does not mean the majority committee will necessarily find the withdrawal feasible or suitable; he said he would simply write a plan so that the Board of Education would see there is a dispute between the committees about the buyout. He said that he is not sure what the committee will eventually conclude.

The state law says a withdrawal plan is only to be submitted if the committee finds the withdrawal is feasible and suitable.   

The minority committee and concerned Sandown residents discussed Wednesday the possibility of holding a special vote before the report must be submitted on Nov. 15 to determine what the majority of the town is in favor of, whether it be to withdrawal or to stay in Timberlane. The results of that vote would heavily influence the suitability portion of the minority report.