By Steve Jusseaume
Hampton Union, Tuesday, August 19, 2003
HAMPTON - Transportation costs remain the wild card in Hampton’s attempt to fashion a school district separate from School Administrative Unit 21, though it is hoped a visit from a representative from First Student Bus Company will clear up a lot of the uncertainty.
That visit could come as soon as this Thursday, when the committee studying possible withdrawal from the SAU meets next.
Since voters approved setting up a committee to study possible withdrawal from the SAU that currently includes Hampton, North Hampton, Hampton Falls, Seabrook and South Hampton, the group, chaired by former Hampton School Board member John Woodburn, has been developing a plan for a separate Hampton school district.
Budget items top a short list of concerns, including salaries for administrators, the cost of transporting 1,400 students to and from school, and finding a place to set up shop.
According to a preliminary plan, the town would have to hire a superintendent, business administrator, bookkeeper and two secretaries, all at a cost of about $258,000.
In coming up with a $90,000 salary for a superintendent, the committee compared the size of the Hampton School District with other schools, including Raymond, Franklin, White Mountain Regional and Barrington. Superintendent salaries in those school districts range from $73,000 to $92,000.
Finding space for an SAU office might be tricky. At last Thursday’s meeting, committee member Pat Collins suggested inviting current Hampton Facilities Manager Keith Lessard to a meeting, to identify possible spaces in the three Hampton schools where an office for five people could be set up.
"I doubt any space is available," said committee member Brian Warburton, though the group did decide to contact Lessard for an opinion.
The costs of legal expenses, computers and software and insurance have yet to be finalized, though it appears likely that setting up a separate school district will not save taxpayers money. Rather, a separate district would give the community more control over its students. And some committee members have asked what the town gets for what it pays SAU 21.
"What have we gotten for $400,000? It’s getting to the point where we’ve paid enough (to SAU 21)," said Warburton.
"Nothing will really change; our students will still go to Winnacunnet High School ... (and) we would have our own control of Hampton students."
Costs would rise for the other schools if Hampton withdrew, according to an information sheet distributed by SAU 21 Assistant Superintendent Fred Engelbach.
His calculations suggest Hampton Falls would pay $8,186 more in a five-district SAU (to $73,729), North Hampton costs would rise $17,480 (to $157,404), Seabrook would pay $32,243 more (to $294,662) and South Hampton’s portion of SAU costs would rise $3,614 (to $32,581).
"We’re talking about only $100,000 the other districts would have to come up with," Warburton said, noting that Hampton has been paying more than 40 percent of SAU costs with little apparent benefit over the years.
Bus transportation could represent the biggest increase in costs, however. According to figures presented, Hampton’s transportation costs under the integrated five-town SAU concept, $343,450, could increase to as much as $532,000 if the community went on its own with a separate, 14-bus fleet.
"It’s not going to be cheaper if Hampton goes out on its own," said Collins, "that’s pretty fair to say."