Croydon Debates Tuition Policy
Board Has Defied AG’s Office
Croydon — Members of the Croydon School Board on Monday faced pointed questions from residents concerned by the town’s ongoing conflict with state officials over
The state Attorney General’s Office has given
the board until next Monday to stop using tax money to pay for a small
group of Croydon students’ tuition at private schools. At this Monday’s
special School Board meeting, a handful of residents raised concerns
that board members were using their position to further an ideological struggle, one that could involve litigation and cost taxpayer dollars.
“If it is legal,” Croydon resident Gary Quimby
said of the practice, which has been in effect since last school year,
“why are we getting letters and why are we going to have a big battle
over something that should be so simple?”
Board members, for their part, say they are
defending parents’ choice of schools, and maintain that they have acted
within the law.
“This is my thing about education: There is no
‘one size fits all,’ ” School Board Chairwoman Jody Underwood said. “Not
all kids are going to do well in Newport schools.”
In 2012, Croydon began the process of ending an
Board members say that state officials at the time did not object to
Croydon’s school choice plan, which listed private institutions as
Five Croydon children now study at the Newport Montessori School, though most still attend public school in Newport.
“I hear the phrase, ‘public money should go for
public schools,’ ” board member Jim Peschke said at the meeting. “No.
Public money should go for public purpose.”
Residents and school board members alike noted
that the state’s latest letter — cease-and-desist messages have been
arriving since February, albeit without deadlines attached — did not
specify what, if any, penalty the district may suffer for
non-compliance. Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards, the official
who signed the Sept. 8 notice, could not be reached via telephone and
The School Board and members of the public weighed the possibility that the district would have to fight the state in court.
Underwood said that an attorney had quoted the
town a preliminary sum of $20,000 to litigate a possible case, including
a $10,000 upfront retainer.
The district has about $6,000 remaining in a
fund for legal counsel, according to Terry Wiggin, SAU 43’s business
administrator. Until recently, the School Board had been discussing
using part of a $12,000 inheritance from a deceased resident for
improvements to the Croydon Village School’s playground, but some of
those funds could go toward legal fees, board members said.
“Instead of doing that,” resident Amanda Leslie
said, referring to the playground work, “you’re going to start a legal
battle with that money?”
Board member Angi Beaulieu said the cost of the playground equipment could be as little as $4,000.
of $18,000, SAU 43 Superintendent Cindy Gallagher said, “that’s not a
lot of money in a court battle.”
Board member who now lives in Croydon, told board members she was
concerned that they were discussing spending thousands of dollars
without first gauging taxpayer support for a protracted fight.
“You’re spending the taxpayers’ money,”
Bonaccorsi said, “and the taxpayers have the right to know what this is
going to cost going forward.”
to pay for litigation, should it become necessary, using an online
crowdfunding site like GoFundMe.
“We’re not acting on our own,” Underwood said. “We were elected to do what we think is best for the town.”
Residents who think differently, Underwood added, should join the School Board.
“Please do,” Beaulieu shot back. “My seat is up next year.”
Monday’s agenda included an item referencing the
possible retainment of legal counsel, but after hearing residents’
input, board members decided to defer that decision until their next
regularly scheduled meeting, which falls on Oct. 14.
In the meantime, Underwood said school officials
would mail out a letter to townspeople apprising them of the situation
and warning of the upcoming meeting.
In other business, the board accepted the
resignation of its treasurer, Kimberly McKinney, and appointed its
current clerk, Erica Brittner, to fill the position.
With the board likely to miss the deadline set by the Attorney General’s Office, it is unclear what will happen next.
On Sept. 15, a week after the state’s latest
letter, the School Board’s attorney, Charles Douglas — a former New
Hampshire Supreme Court justice who now practices in Concord — sent a
response that challenged Edwards’ interpretation of state law.
The letter, which was signed by Underwood but
written by Douglas, concludes: “The district respectfully disagrees with
your efforts to have us stop sending our students to approved private
schools when we believe it is in the best interest of the child and the
district. We plan to continue this practice until you provide a
legitimate legal basis for your assertions. Your attempt to order a
local government to stop doing something is beyond the scope of (state
law). Is your office now going to give advice to all the other towns and
cities across the state whenever (state law) is implicated?”
RSA 193:1, RSA 194:23, RSA 194:27. The program is legal despite what school yard bullies say. School report card for Newport linked. Most of those children are not getting an adequate education. Those parents and children who want a better education should be allowed to get it. Newport is failing to educate far too many students. Take a look at the full report card and tell a parent who wants their child to get a better education they don't have a lawful right to it.
The Peschke family saves the town of Croydon 28,000 dollars a year by homeschooling. Over the children's education time that will be well over 330,000 dollars for the community of Croydon (assuming no cost increase for tuition). Just one child (not ours) is costing taxpayers over 150,000 dollars a year. On top of saving the taxpayers money, we pay close to 5000 dollars a year in property taxes, darn near 50,000 dollars over 10 years. A better education is what is at stake, better educated students make a better world, so we all have a stake in the game.
Jim does not do it for accolades he does it because he feels duty bound toward the taxpayers and parents who want a better education for their children. No child should be forced to stay in a failing school district. Trust me Jim would rather be at home working on quaternion mathematics or spending time with his family.
“Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.” Aldous Huxley. This is not achieved by keeping children in a failing school district or giving them a one size fits all education. The decent thing, the right thing to do is for the school yard bullies to stop fighting and read and understand the laws which make our choice program legal.