Canterbury may try to withdraw from Shaker Regional School District

Elizabeth Christensen of Belmont fills out her ballots for town elections and Shaker Regional School District at Belmont High School on Thursday, March 16, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Elizabeth Christensen of Belmont fills out her ballots for town elections and Shaker Regional School District at Belmont High School on Thursday, March 16, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Shaker Regional School District buses leave Belmont High School after dismissal from school. Canterbury is considering withdrawing from the district for the third time.

Shaker Regional School District buses leave Belmont High School after dismissal from school. Canterbury is considering withdrawing from the district for the third time. Monitor file

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 12-10-2023 8:00 AM

The long-simmering idea that Canterbury should withdraw from the Shaker Regional School District is back at the forefront following a study committee’s support of the idea.

This is the third time Canterbury has considered withdrawing from the 52-year-old district it shares with neighboring Belmont. The idea remains controversial as seen from the Canterbury Withdrawal Study’s split decision: The committee voted 5-2 in favor of withdrawal.

A report written by the majority cited a variety of benefits, including expanded academic choice, while a report from the minority said it wasn’t worth the cost.

The New Hampshire State Board of Education will consider the details of the Canterbury Withdrawal Study on Thursday, Dec. 14. If they approve it, both Canterbury and the Shaker District must consider it at their annual meetings in March and if both agree, negotiations will begin about the timeline and costs of a withdrawal. There is some uncertainty about whether a supermajority, or three-fifths approval, is needed because of changes made this year in the state law.

Canterbury students attend the town’s elementary school through grade 5, then go to Shaker District middle and high schools in Belmont. Belmont dominates the district, sending about four times as many students in the middle and high schools as Canterbury does: 940, compared to 281, according to October enrollment figures. A handful of elementary students from both towns attend elementary school in the other town for geographic reasons.

The majority report supporting withdrawal indicates that a variety of issues drove their decision: “Geography, extracurricular activities, Advanced Placement courses, time span of bus routes, vocational programs and assessment scores all played a part in the Committee’s vote in favor of withdrawal.”

Under their recommendation, if Canterbury withdraws, it would not build its own upper grades but would try to establish contracts with schools in neighboring towns where students could attend middle and high school on a tuition basis. It cited Concord, Winnisquam and Bow school districts as the most likely locations where students might go; a summer survey found parental preferences split among them and Belmont, with the plurality seeking to stay with Belmont.

The committee said Merrimack Valley and Gilford school districts did not respond to the panel’s queries due to concerns about overcrowding.

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“While the Committee believes that the majority of Canterbury would continue to attend Belmont Middle School and Belmont High School, there would be a significant contingent of residents that seek other public educational opportunities outside of the (current district),” the majority report said. “Additionally, the town of Canterbury is currently exploring options for developing residential housing opportunities … in hopes of promoting youthful growth. School choice would play a significant role in that growth and appeal to new residents.”

The report estimates that withdrawal would cost Canterbury between $6.3 million and $6.9 million annually and could cause “potentially a $4.48 to $5.87 increase to the current tax rate,” adding around $1,500 to the annual tax bill of a house valued at $300,000. It would also cost a one-time payment of about $1.77 million to cover Canterbury’s share of past capital costs and existing Shaker District debt.

Withdrawal would cost Belmont an estimated $2.4 million annually if Canterbury stops being part of the district, although Belmont would make up at least some of that loss from any Canterbury students who continue to attend the district.

The minority report said, “there are no compelling economic or educational reasons to justify Canterbury’s withdrawal from the Shaker Regional School District; as a matter of fact it would result in a greater financial burden on Canterbury as well as Belmont residents.”

Among the drawbacks the reports emphasized is transportation, since students might be able to attend higher grades in multiple districts making school bus usage difficult or impossible, and the fact that Canterbury would not have any representatives on the school boards of any districts where students attend.

It recommended that the current district “improve communication” and use the report “as a springboard for discussions to improve educational opportunities within the existing Shaker Regional School District.

Both the majority and minority reports cited results of a survey sent in the summer to residents of both towns in support of their arguments.

Canterbury conducted official studies of whether to stay in the district in 1981 and again in 1993. The current study started with a petitioned warrant article in 2021 “in an effort to provide additional options for educational, athletic and extracurricular activities at a potentially lower cost per student” which led to a volunteer committee that lacked funding. The latest committee was formed after a March 2023 Town Meeting gave them money to hire consultants to help issue the final report.

The majority report was written by Canterbury residents Charlie Krautmann, Calvin Todd and Jessica Treadway, and Shaker Regional School Board member Mark Ekberg and Travis O’Hara of the Belmont Selectboard.

The minority report was written by Shaker Regional School Board Member Randi Johnson, Belmont resident Tracey LeClair and Canterbury residents Sumner Dole and Cheryl Gordon. Two of the members were not present for the final vote.

David Brooks can be reached a dbrooks@cmonitor.com or by calling (603) 369-3313.