Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Croydon School Board Ignores AG’s Private Tuition Deadline | Valley News

Croydon School Board Ignores AG’s Private Tuition Deadline | Valley News

I am very grateful to Chuck Douglas, a former state Supreme Court justice. 

It is my hope that the bullies in Newport, Croydon, and at
the state level trying to stop what is best for these five children,
will not win.  The following piece appears in full on the Valley News website.


Croydon School Board Ignores AG’s Private Tuition Deadline

By Rob Wolfe
Croydon — School Board members on Monday defied the state’s deadline to stop paying
private-school tuition with tax money, gearing up instead for what they
say is a likely court battle.

“I don’t think the state should be telling a local board where they should be finding the best education for their students,” Chuck Douglas, a former state Supreme Court justice who
serves as the board’s attorney, said on Monday. “They should keep their
hands off of Croydon at this point.”

Five Croydon students this year are attending the Newport Montessori School and the families receive reimbursement for tuition from public funds. Since the practice began last school year,
the state has been objecting to it, and Croydon school officials now
believe the disagreement is headed to court.

The School Board has scheduled a meeting on Wednesday night to vote on whether to retain Douglas for the litigation it says is coming from the state. Douglas said the Attorney General’s
Office told him it would likely seek an injunction in Superior Court
this week.

“We feel bad that we have to do this so quickly,” School Board Chairwoman Jody Underwood said in a telephone interview Monday, “but according to our lawyer, we do.”

Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards signed the Sept. 8 cease-and-desist letter that set Monday’s deadline. Messages for her were not returned.

If the two sides seek a legal resolution, Douglas said, the process could take up to a year and half, potentially involving hearings and appeals in Superior Court and the state Supreme

For Croydon, with a population was 764 in the last census, that could prove expensive.

Underwood has launched a crowdfunding campaign
to support legal costs, which in two days has raised about $2,500 of its
$20,000 goal.
“I’m very excited,” Underwood said of the support, which mostly has come through small donations. “Of course, we’ll have to keep going.”

Other residents have made significant pledges, and some have asked to pay using the digital currency Bitcoin, Underwood said.

The board’s page on the crowdfunding website YouCaring says, “In the unlikely event that the state does not take us to court, we will donate whatever money we raise to a charity or
organization supporting school choice.”

At a meeting last week, the board estimated it would cost about $10,000 to retain a lawyer; Douglas, for his part, said he hadn’t given a firm number, but his retainer could be “several
thousand dollars.”

“They’re a small town,” he said. “We’re not going to charge them anything other than the minimum we can charge to handle the case.”

School Board members  last week estimated that they had up to $18,000 available for legal
fees, though they had also contemplated spending some of that money on
improvements to the Croydon Village School’s playground.

The Croydon Selectboard last week backed the School Board and informed the
Attorney General’s Office that the town government could not legally comply with requests to send municipal checks to SAU 43, not to the School Board.

“We do not do what the attorney general says,” Selectman Steve Cunningham said in an interview last week. “We do what the law says, and I don’t see how they can do anything to us when we’re
obeying the law.”

As the School Board makes what it sees as a defense of school choice, it may end up setting a statewide precedent, Underwood said.

“I’ve gotten calls from all different school boards, because they’re interested in how we’re able to do this,” she said, “but they’re afraid.”

“I think we need to challenge what they tell us,” Underwood said of the state. “We have to keep them on their toes, in my opinion.”
Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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