Study Group Unanimously Supports Hampton School District Withdrawing from SAU 21

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Vote Unanimous to Leave SAU 21; Voters get Final say in March

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union,

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

The Hampton Withdrawal Study Committee voted unanimously last week in support of the Hampton School District breaking away from what some have called the "dysfunctional family" that is School Administrate Unit 21.

"The biggest factor in my vote is that I wanted to see a superintendent focusing solely on the children of Hampton," said Committee Chairwoman Kathy Terry.

The committee formed by voters in March to study whether Hampton should withdraw intends to submit its final report to the state Board of Education next month.

If approved by the state it will then go to Hampton voters in March, who have the ultimate say on whether Hampton becomes its own independent entity.

Terry said committee members met 13 times during the summer and spent countless hours studying the issue.

They spoke with administrators, union officials and even got input from representatives of area districts that voted to withdraw and go out on its on. The committee, she said, also wrote its final report first before they took an actual vote.

"We spent many hours, conducted lots of research and had great discussions," Terry said. "We wrote the report first before we took a vote. I think that is important because the report was not written to substantiate the vote."

This is third time in recent years that a committee has been formed to study the issue.

Prior committees came to the same conclusion but when it went before voters it failed to reach the necessary three-fifths majority to get approved.

While the players of the committee have changed, a lot of the same reasons for withdrawing in the past once again came to the forefront.

The current committee included Art Gopalan, Budget Committee member Eileen Latimer and School Board member Rosemary Lamers.

"Hampton continues to pay the lions share of SAU budget and it has not gotten the services we feel we deserve," Terry said. "When you take what we pay and look at what we receive, it's just not right."

Committee members said the town has to share a superintendent with six other districts, it doesn't have a say in the SAU budget and, at time is held hostage by decisions made by school boards in other member towns.

If Hampton voters approve withdrawing from SAU 21, the biggest change is that Hampton will have its own superintendent for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

High school students will still go to Winnacunnet High School.

Lamers, who served on the last study committee, said based on everything she has heard this time around leaving was still in the best interest of the children of Hampton.

"We had curriculum people from Winnacunnet telling us that Hampton would be better off as a single district," Lamers said. "It was that cut and dry."

When SAUs were first formed, she said, the main focus of a superintendent was student achievement.

Under the current set up — with the superintendent being pulled in six different directions — that is not happening, she added.

"When you have a joint board that believes it's there to just carry out business and not embrace or discuss student issues like curriculum and readiness for the high school there is a problem."

Budget Committee member Mike Pierce, who attended a majority of the meetings as a resident, said he too was in favor of Hampton withdrawing.

To him the deciding factor was about local control.

"If the Hampton School Board wants the superintendent to do something in particular and he doesn't do it, they have no power to fire him because that's a Joint Board discussion," Pierce said.

Pierce said Hampton is basically at the mercy of North Hampton, Seabrook, South Hampton and Hampton Falls.

As far as a budget standpoint, Pierce said it really wasn't a factor.

He said Hampton already has its own curriculum director, technology director, and pays for its own buses.

"Dollar for dollar it would be so close that your tax bill would never know the difference," Pierce said.

Lamers said the same forces against withdrawal -- the teacher's union and other districts within SAU 21 -- will probably be against it this time around.

"Of course other districts would be against it because they would have to pay more," Lamers said. "But when your making a decision like this it isn't based on whether it will pass or not. It is truly looking fundamentally at what is the right thing to do. Is this in the best interest of students? In my mind the answer is yes."

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