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Hill voters approve study commission to examine whether to leave Franklin schools

Hill voters approved the formation of a committee made up of Hill and Franklin officials to look at Hill students leaving the high school and middle school in Franklin, on Tuesday night, November 19, 2013.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

Hill voters approved the formation of a committee made up of Hill and Franklin officials to look at Hill students leaving the high school and middle school in Franklin, on Tuesday night, November 19, 2013. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

A committee of Hill and Franklin elected officials will spend the next six months studying the feasibility of Hill students leaving Franklin’s middle and high schools.

A crowd of about 40 Hill voters approved the formation of this committee during a special district meeting last night, with only a few attendees voting no on a voice vote. Hill has been sending its middle and high school students to Franklin through a tuition agreement for years, with the most recent iteration of the agreement signed in 2004.

Hill’s school board members said they felt now was an appropriate time to evaluate the partnership because the most recent agreement is reaching the 10-year mark. There is no strict end date on the agreement, however, so Hill does not risk its students being forced to leave Franklin.

This year, 18 Hill students attend Franklin Middle School and 44 go to Franklin High School, said Mike O’Neill, the district’s business administrator. This year’s budget shows the middle school collects $251,390 in tuition from those students and the high school collects $439,963.

At this time the process is in the beginning stage, with no guarantee that voters will ultimately decide to split with Franklin. Under state law, a committee made up of two Franklin and Hill board members, two Hill selectmen and the superintendent as a nonvoting member has 180 days to study the issue. Board members Nancy Coffin and December Fortin will represent Hill, and Franklin will appoint members as well.

In response to questions last night, board members said that study will include evaluating what is working and what isn’t in Franklin, seeing what other districts have to offer and coming up with a workable payment model. Hill board members already met with Newfound board members, and Winnisquam Regional School District has also expressed interest.

When the 180 days is up, the committee will present its findings to the State Board of Education, which will issue a recommendation, but Hill voters have the final say. If the study committee recommends leaving Franklin, summer 2015 would be the earliest students would move, said Shelly Henry, Hill’s board chairwoman.

Few attendees had questions for the board last night, and an overwhelming majority voted in favor of the study.

Robert Blad, the father of a fourth-grader and a kindergartner, said he voted yes because he thinks it is worthwhile to at least explore other options.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think Franklin offers a good education,” he said. “And that’s all it is, it’s a study, so it’s not written in stone that we’re going to go to another school district. They might wind up coming back and saying it’s not in our best interest.”

Paula McDonough, another parent, said she and several others first asked the board to undertake a similar study about two years ago, when the board had different leadership. Since a study didn’t happen then, she’s glad this board is pursuing it.

“Those three school board members are looking out for the best interest of the school, for the taxpayers, elderly people and the education. They’re doing what we taxpayers pay them to do,” she said.

A first meeting date for the committee hasn’t been set, but Hill’s board members said they’d like to get started as soon as possible given the amount of work the study will require.

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

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