February 03. 2013 10:34PM

Decision time nears for Dunbarton school vote

Union Leader Correspondent

DUNBARTON - The final push is on as Dunbarton voters prepare to make a decision on which school district will educate their middle and high school students.

The Authorized Regional Enrollment Area (AREA) agreement ends in 2014, and Dunbarton voters must choose whether to continue its 40-year relationship with Goffstown, or pursue a new partnership with the Bow school district.

Should Dunbarton choose to let the agreement with Goffstown expire, Goffstown could lose as much at $2 million in tuition revenue.

With about six weeks to go before the final vote, the Dunbarton School Board has held a public information meeting and arranged for tours of both Goffstown and Bow schools later this month.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Dunbarton School Board presented information highlighting the similarities and differences between the districts in areas, including test scores, course offerings and taxpayer cost.

Philip Pancoast, chairman of the Goffstown School Board, said the re-negotiated AREA agreement includes new provisions that will give both Dunbarton and New Boston a slightly lower rental charge and more say in educational decisions over the next 10 years.

"We've done all the things necessary to make sure those communities have a voice in the education of their students," Pancoast said.

Under the new agreement, school board members in the two towns will have a vote on school board sub-committees. "The sub-committees do most of the work of the school board," Pancoast said. "A vote on a sub-committee is meaningful."

The building rental charge paid by Dunbarton and New Boston, which is part of the tuition calculation, has been reduced to 2 percent from 2.5 percent, Pancoast said at Goffstown's school deliberative session Saturday.

"We're returning to where we were 10 years ago," Pancoast said. "We needed to have an agreement that was competitive on a price basis." Dunbarton School Board Chairman Rene Ouellet said that after much negotiation, the AREA agreement with Goffstown stacks up well against the one with Bow.

Pancoast also said the relationship among the three school districts has been beneficial to the Goffstown community.

"We've had a very effective marriage for the past 40 years," he said. "It's substantially important to this community."

A point of contention between Goffstown and Dunbarton lies in the repayment of an $800,000 bond that paid for improvements at Goffstown High School, which Pancoast said contributed to the school's accreditation.

Pancoast said Goffstown's position is that Dunbarton would still be responsible for repayment of its share of that bond, regardless of whether Dunbarton continues the agreement.

"Nowhere in the statutory scheme does it say you get to exit without consequence," Pancoast said. "You can't go to the statute to resolve this issue."

But Ouellet disagrees.

"Our position is simple," he said. "If we do not renew the agreement, it expires," adding that state statute doesn't address the repayment of any bonds.