Warrant article to boost standards hotly debated at Bedford School District deliberative session
By Simón Ríos Union Leader Correspondent
BEDFORD - Tempers flared at the school district's deliberative session Tuesday night, as residents exchanged missives over a special warrant article that seeks to boost standards for AP and IB advanced learning programs.
Unlike previous debates over International Baccalaureate, the conversation wasn't over whether or not the programs should exist, but whether the district should attempt to increase student participation.
At the start of the night, the article sought to boost the number of "passes" in AP and IB exams from the current 321 to 600 per year. Though special articles are non-binding, it was amended to reduce the 600 to 325.
"There's no question that we are among the very best in New Hampshire," said Richard Evans, a former Londonderry school board member who wrote the special article. "We're quite possibly the highest performing district in the state in AP."
But Evans said by the standards of countries like Holland or Singapore-with whom today's students will be forced to compete in the global economy-American students fall short.
Over 100 people attended the meeting at the Bedford High School theater. The remaining nine warrant articles, which address pay increases for workers across the district, were left alone.
Evans, a British native who sent his kids to The Derryfield School, said though Bedford ranks highly in the state, standards are far higher in other countries.
"It's a cold hard fact that kids in many other countries have to pass three examinations of equivalent difficulty to AP or IB to be even considered for college admission," he said.
He said that according to data provided by the administration, only 42 of last year's graduating class of 322 would have made it into college by international standards.
"I don't think that that really is world class," he said, "and that's why I put together the petition."
Paul Brock, treasurer of the Bedford Education Foundation, moved to amend the article by funding it with $500,000. But the town's lawyer said the move was not legal, and Brock retracted the motion.
Stephanie Willer, a mother of two students in Bedford, approached the microphone to ask if Evans was trying to take down the IB program.
"I prefer to put my confidence and recommendations as to testing to the people that are sitting on stage," Willer said, "not to someone who just comes up, grabs some statistics and wants to view it in their direction."
She moved to amend the Evans' article to change the 600 pass requirements to zero.
Though he views the IB program as having a left slant, Evans said he's not trying to contract IB and AP, but expand them. He said the programs carry benefits not only for students, but also for parents in the way of lower tuition costs, and for taxpayers by increasing demand for Bedford schools and thus boosting property values.
Willer returned to the microphone to "amend my amendment," reducing the proposed 600 exam passes to 325 instead of zero.
School moderator Ryk Bullock, who announced his retirement at the start of the meeting, called a vote. Willer's amendment to the special article was approved resoundingly.
Following the meeting, Evans said the amendment "completely takes the teeth out of" the article. Currently Bedford High School students pass 321 exams in a year, he said; the article increases that by only four passes.
But considering that special articles are non-binding, Evan said the public conversation over the programs is perhaps more important than the article itself.
The warrant articles will be put to the voters on March 12 at the Bedford High School gymnasium.