Deerfield voters reject sending students to Concord High School

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 03-29-2023 6:51 PM

Deerfield voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a new 20-year contract to send their high school students to Concord, making it unclear where the students will go starting in fall of 2024.

With only a K-8 school system, Deerfield has sent its students to Concord High School for almost two decades under a contract that runs out at the end of the next school year. At Tuesday’s election, which had been delayed by the March 14 snowstorm, voters rejected a warrant article that would extended the contract until 2044. The tally was 827 “no” votes to 604 “yes.”

The Concord School Board has already approved the tuition agreement. The proposed school budget for next year calls for charging Deerfield slightly over $14,000 per pupil, bringing in an estimated $2.26 million or slightly over 2% of the proposed operating budget, which was expected to be approved Wednesday. There are 159 Deerfield students at Concord High this year. 

Opponents of the contract argued that Deerfield’s teens shouldn’t be locked into going to Concord but should have the option to attend whatever high school they wished on a tuition basis.

“The vote was because of two things, I think. It was unprecedently long, at 20 years, and the families of Deerfield have made it clear to the school board they want expanded school choice,” said Kevin Verville, a Republican state representative from Deerfield who supported ending the contract. “This would have prevented expanded school choice for two generations of students.”

Supporters argued that the contract should be extended because the choice option caused problems when it was used by Deerfield before joining Concord in 2003, and would be more expensive.

“What they’re asking will come at significant expense,” said Deerfield School Board Chairman Zachary Langlois, who supported extending the contract with Concord. He said before the town joined Concord “there were years we had students not have a placement” in another school.

“Next week we (the school board) will meet and start to determine how to undo the mess that the community has put it into,” he said. 

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In a related move Tuesday, Deerfield voters approved, 780-631, a petitioned article that said the School District should “enter into contracts and tuition agreements with more than one public high school,” with the district told to “pay for the full tuition for students to attend an approved public high school of their choice.” The article was advisory only and does not legally bind the district.

On the other hand, all candidates for three open school board seats who had supported the end of the contract were defeated in Tuesday’s election. The five-person board will have three new members.

Langlois said he felt people were misinformed about the issue and was pointedly critical of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who appeared at a public forum. 

“It’s unfortunate that the Commissioner of Education, I don’t feel, accurately represented the facts,” Langlois said.

Verville also decried what he said was misinformation.

“The anti-school-choice crowd has been floating the argument that it will cost taxpayers considerably more money, but there’s no empirical record that that’s true,” he said, pointing to other towns where students tuition to multiple high schools. “I think that’s sort of a canard to shoot down expanded school choice. They’re trying to protect monopoly public education under the guise of going to the lowest bidder.”

Also Tuesday, voters rejected, 649-786, the proposed $15.88 million school budget. The default budget is $15.82 million.

Voters also rejected the proposed operating budget on the town side. The $4.81 million budget was rejected, 667-765; the default town budget is $4.27 million. 

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