Public hearing set to determine fate of Franklin school district

  • Hill voters wait in line to receive ballots during the March 16, 2016 annual school district meeting. During the 2015 meeting, residents voted to withdraw Hill students in grades 7-12 from SAU 18 and move them to Newfound School District. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Following six months of meetings, school officials in Franklin are close to finishing a process that’s practically already decided.

The Franklin Withdrawal Planning Committee will hold a public hearing April 12 on a proposal to pull out of SAU 18 and create its own school district.

However, SAU 18 includes only the Franklin School District, with 1,140 students and the Jennie D. Blake Elementary School in Hill, with 64 students.

SAU 18 underwent a more significant split more than a year ago when Hill residents voted to withdraw students in grades 7 through 12 and send them to the Newfound School District as part of a 10-year agreement.

“The SAU essentially was for all intents and purposes dissolved . . . when Hill pulled out and went to Newfound,” withdrawal committee Chairman David Testerman said. “At this stage, all that’s left is a small elementary school that is currently funded by Hill. It’s really not that difficult.”

Among the items to be ironed out is a financial consolidation plan that could put the city of Franklin in charge of the school district’s finances as a sub-account of the city’s overall expenses.

But the Franklin School Board unanimously voted against the original consolidation plan Feb. 15, and at the March 16 withdrawal committee meeting, various members also expressed concerns.

“It would be all the same people doing the work, which would simplify things,” said Testerman, who supports the consolidation plan. “In my opinion, with Hill pulling out, we need to do some things to same some money.”

In August, the Franklin City Council approved a withdrawal study committee. School board members, a city council finance committee member, four members of the public, SAU administrators and Superintendent Daniel LeGallo have met once or twice monthly since September.

As mandated by state law, the committee is required to meet and decide whether Franklin School District should withdraw. If so, a plan must be submitted to the state Department of Education.

In previous meetings, Hill School Board members advised the committee not to worry about Hill. A call to Chairwoman Shelly Henry regarding the potential withdrawal was not immediately returned Tuesday.

“The Hill people appear to be sort of ambivalent about it,” Testerman said.

Opponents also question how the withdrawal would affect SAU personnel, what legal fees would be needed to set up a new SAU, whether the withdrawal process provides any educational benefit to Franklin students and what the overall purpose of withdrawal is.

While Testerman has suggested it could save the Franklin School District money, Franklin Rep. Werner Horn said during the August city council meeting that he thought it might be due to “bruised egos” as a result of Hill’s withdrawal.

A public hearing is set for April 12 at 7 p.m. at Franklin Middle School.

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)