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Deerfield considers no longer sending its students to Concord High School

A recent survey showed the bulk of Deerfield parents who send their children to Concord High School are very satisfied with the education provided. However, Deerfield is approaching a critical point in its 10-year contract with the Concord School Board, and officials are exploring the possibility of sending their children elsewhere.

“We want to do what’s best for all of our high school students,” said Maryann Clark, a member of the five-person Deerfield School Board.

The board will have the final say on whether its students will continue to attend Concord High School but is asking for the public’s input. It’s formed an advisory committee that starts meeting next week and will offer voters a chance to weigh in through a nonbinding vote at the annual district meeting this March.

Deerfield is also considering Oyster River in Durham and Pembroke Academy.

Oyster River is about 20 miles away, has 680 students and charges $12,600 in tuition per student, according to materials provided by the Deerfield School Board.

Pembroke Academy is about 15 miles away from Deerfield, has 843 students and charges $10,046 per student, according to the same materials.

The decision should be made by the end of the current school year, Clark said.

“We stuck a pin in a map and drew a 30-mile radius around it,” Clark said. Then they looked at all the high schools in that radius and found the three that could accommodate up to 200 additional students.

This is the ninth year that Deerfield has sent nearly all its high school students to Concord High School, and Concord officials interviewed said they weren’t surprised to hear that Deerfield is exploring its options.

“It’s like anything else. Periodically you look at your car insurance and see that it does what you want it to do,” said Betty Hoadley, a Concord School Board member.

The contract, signed in 2004, requires Deerfield to send 95 percent of its students in grades 9 through 12 to Concord High for a minimum of 10 years.

Since then, Deerfield has sent about 190 students annually to Concord High, which has about 1,725 students.

The contract requires Deerfield to give three years notice to terminate the agreement. That means if Deerfield decides to change high schools, the current fifth-graders would be the first not to enroll at Concord High.

For the current academic year, Deerfield budgeted $2.9 million for tuition payments out of its overall budget of $11.8 million, Clark said. About 95 percent of that goes to Concord, Clark said.

Concord charged Deerfield $13,926 per pupil for the current academic year.

In the end, Deerfield voters may still prefer to send their children to Concord High, Clark said.

“We’ve got a good relationship,” she said.

Concord officials said they have gone out of their way to make the Deerfield students feel at home – they have the same access to academic, extracurricular and athletic opportunities as Concord students.

“I think in human terms it would certainly be a loss for Concord High simply because Deerfield students have greatly enhanced the education environment of the school, and Concord High School administrators and students . . . have embraced the Deerfield students,” Concord School Board President Kass Ardinger said.

But Deerfield is about 22 miles from Concord, and though Deerfield provides transportation, many families still carpool so their children can have access to more after-school opportunities.

Before Deerfield enrolled its students at Concord High School, the students dispersed as individuals and small groups to whichever high school could take a few here and there, Clark said. A decade ago, when Deerfield decided it wanted to send its students to Concord, Clark said there weren’t many choices – only Concord or Manchester. But declining enrollments across the state have opened more opportunities for them, she said.

“We didn’t have as many options nine years ago as we do now,” she said.

Tomorrow at 6 p.m. the principals of each high school will make presentations and answer questions about their programs and facilities. The first meeting of the advisory committee will take place Monday at 6 p.m., Clark said. Both events will take place at the Deerfield Community School on North Road. Anyone with questions can contact Clark at 463-7153 or clark@nhinternet.com.

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors )

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