At Loudon town meeting, some see a flawed school district

  • Voters got off to an early start in Loudon on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Photo by Leah Willingham / Monitor staff

  • Janine Fraser has little confidence in the Merrimack Valley School District, and she said so at Saturday’s Loudon Town Meeting. RAY DUCKLER / Monitor staff

  • Jim O’Neill defended the Merrimack Valley School District at the Loudon Town Meeting Saturday. RAY DUCKLER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/17/2018 5:15:19 PM

Many in Loudon made it clear at Saturday’s annual town meeting what they think about the Merrimack Valley School District.

Not much.

That’s why an article sought to create a committee to study the “opportunities and liabilities to the town of Loudon to withdraw.”

The vote to study options for Loudon schoolchildren failed in a secret ballot, 117-74, but the feelings that spilled out in the Loudon Elementary School gym were loud and clear, showing that a large segment of voters have little faith in the educational system currently in place.

“I would happily support this budget if I felt that my children were receiving a high quality education,” Amy Corliss said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately I do not. Test scores continue to go down and enrollment continues to decline.”

Alternative energy sources created a supporting cast of conversation. After much debate, $30,000 was approved for an Alternative Energy Capital Reserve Fund, in an article that had asked for the narrower solar energy fund before an amendment.

Also, a 100 percent property tax exemption for primary residences that add a solar energy installation was voted down by secret ballot, 97-92; and an article sponsored by Trudy Mott-Smith to study the feasibility of offshore wind power, generated by the blustery Gulf of Maine, failed by a card vote.

The $4.5 million budget, which included an extra $7,500 for more fireworks at the annual Old Home Day, passed easily.

But fireworks went beyond colorful explosions on a warm summer night. The issue regarding Loudon’s views on the school district had plenty of pop to it, so much so that those who favored possible secession had their thoughts clearly documented on paper.

Corliss had numbers. She said Loudon joined the MVSD in 1965. “Wouldn’t it be reasonable to revisit a 50-year-old agreement to make sure that it is continuing to meet the educational and financial needs and desires of our residents?” Corliss asked the crowd, so big that the meeting began a half-hour late.

Jen Mercer also had a speech prepared. She reminded voters that the article simply was looking for a study to measure the feasibility of Loudon pulling out. She also pointed out that many towns have already gone this path, and Dunbarton, Gilford, Goshen and Mason have made it work.

Mercer then cited unflattering educational numbers directed at the school district, saying that reported the middle school ranks in the bottom 25 percent statewide and the high school in the bottom 35 percent.

“These are alarming numbers,” Mercer said into the microphone. “Yes, both those stats are both based on test scores only, and some kids opt out of testing, but why are other schools ranked higher?

“I’ve asked the questions in the past at school board meetings and only got blank stares.”

Janine Fraser, sitting alone in the back bleachers, took it to a personal level, saying her daughter, a 2015 Merrimack Valley High School graduate, had been “pulled out of class multiple times because of another student bullying her.”

Jim O’Neill, though, came to the defense of the school district, saying parents needed to get more involved to help improve the educational quality.

“Speak to principals, speak to administrators,” O’Neill said. “Still got a problem? Run for the school board.”

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