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Franklin school board, city council postpone joint meeting, plan to reschedule

The joint meeting between Franklin’s city council and school board originally scheduled for tonight has been postponed, and will likely be rescheduled for sometime in late March.

The meeting was postponed because the moderator both groups agreed on, Earl Sweeney of the New Hampshire Department of Safety, was unavailable. And at Monday’s school board meeting, Mayor Ken Merrifield stood up and suggested the two groups try someone different: Don Jutton, president and founder of Municipal Resources Inc. The city has been talking with Jutton about the potential consolidation of the city’s and school’s finances, and thought he would be a suitable third-party observer to lead the meeting. In an effort to demonstrate a desire to work together, the school board agreed on asking Jutton to moderate instead, said Chairman Ray Yonaitis in an email.

A formal date has not been set for the meeting, but Jutton is not available until after March 16, said City Manager Elizabeth Dragon. Jutton has talked to Dragon and Merrifield about conducting a brief survey with each member of both groups to find out what issues are at play and to set an agenda before the meeting, which could make the meeting more productive, Dragon said.

Jutton will also likely assist with the possible consolidation of finances, which was first proposed by the council at a January meeting. Formal action has since been put on hold, but Dragon and Judie Milner, the city’s finance director, had a meeting with Superintendent Maureen Ward and the school’s business administrator, Mike O’Neill, last week to begin discussing the idea. Yonaitis said he is still not in favor of the city taking over the district’s finances, but he would be open to hearing more about an independent organization handling both group’s finances.

Members from both groups remain optimistic that the joint meeting can be a positive step toward rebuilding communication between the two groups, which have a history of tension and public disagreement. Merrifield said he felt welcomed at Monday’s school board meeting when he stood up to suggest Jutton as a moderator.

“I felt that the conversation that we had was very productive,” he said. “And I’m grateful to the board for being so receptive (to) the ideas that we expressed.”

This article has been updated to reflect a clarification in Yonaitis’s position on combining the city’s and school’s finances.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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