Loudon residents approve spending, won’t study leaving MVSD

Monitor staff
Saturday, March 18, 2017

Loudon voters shot down a petition warrant article that called for a feasibility study to examine whether the town should leave the Merrimack Valley School District.

The feasibility study was proposed by some parents of Merrimack Valley district students who said they were concerned with the district’s educational rankings statewide.

“I think we need to look at our options,” said resident Jen Mercer at Saturday’s town meeting. “Our kids are not getting the education they deserve, especially not with what we’re paying for at the Merrimack Valley School District.”

Mercer said state performance rankings show Merrimack Valley Middle School at the bottom 40 percent of New Hampshire schools, while the high school is at the bottom 20 percent.

“I don’t think throwing additional money at the problem will fix it either,” Mercer said.

However, resident Lisa Laughlin said she had been doing research on how much it would cost to withdraw and form a standalone school district, and didn’t believe the benefits would outweigh the cost.

Laughlin said the current cost per pupil is around $13,000, which is higher in surrounding school districts, including Concord and Pittsfield. She said she was also concerned town residents would have to pay a lot to buy back some school buildings from Merrimack Valley.

“Do these districts even have the room? Do they want us?” she asked. “There are costs that go beyond educating our students.”

Resident Amy Corliss said the feasibility study would be designed to do precisely what Laughlin was talking about, finding out whether or not leaving the district would be doable.

“We’re not deciding right now to leave. We’re just doing a study,” Corliss said.

The motion failed to reach a simple majority.

Loudon voters easily passed a $4.43 million budget and some big-ticket items, including repaving roads and hiring two new firefighters/EMTs during a speedy meeting.

A warrant article with one of the smallest appropriations, $6,000 to upgrade the town website, generated some of the most debate among residents – although it was ultimately passed.

Loudon Communications Council Chairwoman MaryAnn Steele and other residents explained that the town’s website is difficult to navigate.

Laughlin said she is regularly calling town offices to try to locate various documents or meeting agendas on the town website.

“What’s there is a great start, but it’s not enough,” she said.

Some residents proposed amending the article in order to contract with a Loudon-based web design company, rather than Virtual Towns and Schools, the company the town had selected to do the work. Others asked if it was possible to simply do updates in the web system that’s already in place.

Steele said it was possible to make updates, but it wouldn’t deliver the simple design and ease of finding things that residents want.

“We see this as something that will be a remarkable benefit to the town,” she said.

Residents rejected a warrant article that would have given a property tax exemption to residents with solar panels.