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Dunbarton to ship its students to Bow in 2014

  • Dunbarton residents line up to pick up ballots in the first secret ballot of the day at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to no longer send older students to Goffstown High School but to Bow High School.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Dunbarton residents line up to pick up ballots in the first secret ballot of the day at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to no longer send older students to Goffstown High School but to Bow High School.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Goffstown high School senior Molly Goldstein tells fellow Dunbarton residents why she thinks Dunbarton students should continue to attend Goffstown High School during Dunbarton's school meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted  overwhelmingly to leave Goffstown Schools in favor of Bow's.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Goffstown high School senior Molly Goldstein tells fellow Dunbarton residents why she thinks Dunbarton students should continue to attend Goffstown High School during Dunbarton's school meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted overwhelmingly to leave Goffstown Schools in favor of Bow's.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Town Clerk Linda Landry calls residents to her line to pick up their ballots at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to leave the Goffstown School District for Bow's.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Town Clerk Linda Landry calls residents to her line to pick up their ballots at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to leave the Goffstown School District for Bow's.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Town Clerk Linda Landry calls residents to her line to pick up their ballots at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to leave the Goffstown School District for Bow's.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Town Clerk Linda Landry calls residents to her line to pick up their ballots at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to leave the Goffstown School District for Bow's.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Dunbarton residents line up to pick up ballots in the first secret ballot of the day at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to no longer send older students to Goffstown High School but to Bow High School.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Goffstown high School senior Molly Goldstein tells fellow Dunbarton residents why she thinks Dunbarton students should continue to attend Goffstown High School during Dunbarton's school meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted  overwhelmingly to leave Goffstown Schools in favor of Bow's.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Town Clerk Linda Landry calls residents to her line to pick up their ballots at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to leave the Goffstown School District for Bow's.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Town Clerk Linda Landry calls residents to her line to pick up their ballots at the Dunbarton School meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2013. More than 500 people packed the Dunbarton Elementary School gym to attend the meeting and voted to leave the Goffstown School District for Bow's.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Dunbarton residents voted yesterday to begin shipping their middle and high school students to Bow next year, a decision that ends nearly two years of negotiations and comes as Bow grapples with dwindling enrollment.

The 298-101 vote followed three hours of school board presentations and testimony from residents, and after a vote to renew the town’s current partnership with Goffstown failed, 161-286.

“It’s a great day for Bow and Dunbarton,” said Bow Superintendent Dean Cascadden. “We’ve been looking for a partner.”

Under the new agreement, Dunbarton will pay Bow $9,000 to $13,000 for each student it sends to the district – about 120 high school and 60 middle school students. That’s roughly comparable to the tuition it would have paid had it stayed with Goffstown. Part of the tuition will include an annual capital improvement fee of about $250 per student that would go toward future projects at the schools.

As with its current partnership, Dunbarton will be billed separately for special education costs incurred by its students, and it will be responsible for transportation to and from school. Its school board won’t have voting rights when it becomes part of Bow’s school administrative unit.

More than 500 people squeezed into the town’s school gymnasium for the meeting yesterday. Many were forced to stand along the walls of the room. At one point the fire marshal indicated that no one else would be allowed to enter the facility.

“I have been on the board for more than 10 years and I have never seen anything like this,” said Rene Ouellet, chairman of the Dunbarton School Board.

Though the final vote was nearly 3-to-1 in favor of the move, several residents opposed it during public comment, some praising the experience they or their children have had with Goffstown and others questioning the need to change something that they don’t feel is broken.

Molly Goldstein, a senior at Goffstown High School, described her experience as “wonderful” and said she had developed great relationships with her teachers, administrators and even custodial staff. She cautioned against the move, adding that there was more at stake than just which district presented the best cost benefit.

“We’re not revenue,” she said. “There aren’t dollar signs on us.”

Others expressed concern about Bow’s continuing enrollment troubles. Goffstown’s middle and high schools, which are roughly twice the size of Bow’s, have a more stable student population. Bow’s high school enrollment, for example, has dropped 22.5 percent over the past six years.

But others praised Bow. Colleen Madden, a parent, lauded the openness and transparency that Bow administrators and board members had extended throughout negotiations, and said she worried about the quality of education her young children would get in Goffstown.

“I feel the Bow contract is better for our town,” she said. “It’s an excellent education in a smaller environment.”

Asked what he wished to tell those who voted against the move, Cascadden said that he hopes everyone can come together and find common ground, and focus on what is best for students.

“This was an issue with strong emotions on both sides,” he said. “Right now, we need to just take some time to heal, and then move on from there.”

The partnership will take effect July 1, 2014, though high school students from Dunbarton who already attend Goffstown High School will have the option of staying there through their senior year. Though the agreement does not allow a similar choice for middle school students, both Goffstown and Bow have indicated they are willing to explore that option.

“We need to sit down and work on some real transition issues and just find what will be best for the kids,” Cascadden said.

The Bow and Dunbarton school boards are slated to meet in the coming months to examine that and a slew of other transition issues, including curriculum, special education needs and bus routes.

The Dunbarton school board explored a variety of alternative district agreements, including with Concord and Hopkinton. But Bow was the only district that was both comparable in distance to Goffstown and had space for its students.

One lingering question for Dunbarton will be whether it is forced to pay Goffstown for a bond it obtained in 2001, three years before Dunbarton’s current 10-year agreement went into effect. Goffstown officials indicated last year they thought the town owed continued payments because it was effectively withdrawing from the district. But Jeff Trexler, a Dunbarton School Board member, said that was not the case – the district was simply ending one contract and entering a new one – and said the district’s attorney was confident they would not be charged any fee.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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