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Concord, Deerfield school districts extend deadline to renegotiate tuition agreement

The Deerfield and Concord school districts have extended the deadline to renegotiate their contract from June 30 to Sept. 30. Under the contract, signed in 2004, Deerfield must send 95 percent of its students to Concord High School for at least 10 years.

As the 10th year of agreement approached, Deerfield began exploring offers last fall from Pembroke Academy and Oyster River, which were both looking for additional students to boost their enrollment numbers. Once seven years of the contract passed, Deerfield had the option of giving a three-year notice of withdrawal by June 30 of any year. But Concord, eager to keep Deerfield’s students, recently made an offer to extend that deadline to Sept. 30 so the two districts could rework the contract. Deerfield’s school board voted unanimously last week to accept that offer.

“It is a priority of the (Concord school) board to keep Deerfield students at Concord High, and we’re going to work very hard to make sure that both parties are satisfied and want to continue the relationship,” said Kass Ardinger, chairwoman of Concord’s board.

Deerfield could still decide to send its students elsewhere if the two sides don’t reach an agreement by Sept. 30. Deerfield’s negotiating team will include school board members Donald Gorman and Maryann Clark as well as Superintendent Patty Sherman. Concord hasn’t set its negotiating team yet, Ardinger said.

Deerfield is not unhappy with the services Concord is providing, but began surveying other options to see whether they could get a better deal elsewhere. Some things Deerfield is seeking from negotiations include lower tuition rates for regular and
special education students and a looser requirement for how many Deerfield students must attend Concord, said Deerfield board Chairman Kevin
Barry. Right now the contract says Deerfield must send
95 percent of its students to Concord.

“Concord and Deerfield has been such a good match over the years,” Barry said. “We had a meeting with Concord about two weeks ago, and they were receptive as far as talking about some changes in the existing contract.”

The tuition for Deerfield students was $13,926 for the school year that just ended and will be $14,163 next school year, said Jack Dunn, Concord’s business administrator. The original agreement set tuition for the 2004-2005 school year at $8,900, and raises it each year based on the percent increase of the district’s yearly budget or the Consumer Price Index, Boston average, whichever is higher.

About 190 Deerfield students attended Concord High School this year, pulling in about $2.65 million in tuition, or about 3.5 percent of the district’s budget. Concord, like many high schools across the state, is facing declining enrollment, and Superintendent Chris Rath said earlier this year that losing Deerfield’s students would be “significant.”

Deerfield’s school board has involved the public throughout the process of searching for a new high school of record. The principals from Concord, Oyster River and Pembroke participated in an information session with residents, and in January, an 11-member parent committee visited all three schools. That committee’s recommendation was to send Deerfield students to Oyster River.

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

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