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September 20. 2012 1:12AM

Dunbarton, New Boston to Goffstown: We don't owe

As Dunbarton and New Boston near the expiration of an AREA agreement with Goffstown, questions remain about repaying the bond that funded improvements to Goffstown High School.

Nearly $8 million remains on the bond that will mature in 2021, and there are differing opinions on repayment of the money if the AREA agreement expires and Dunbarton and New Boston pull out of SAU 19.

In an Aug. 29 letter to the Goffstown School Board, Dunbarton School Board Chairman Rene Ouellet said his district's position is that Dunbarton would not be responsible for the bond repayment.

“When the current agreement expires, Dunbarton will have no continuing financial obligation to Goffstown,” the letter read. “Dunbarton will not have withdrawn from the AREA in accordance with RSA 195-A:14 as amended. The existing agreement will simply have come to an end.”

Goffstown School Board member Keith Allard doesn't agree with Dunbarton's position.

“I interpreted the current AREA agreement not to be the opinion that Dunbarton has claimed and that we need to have legal counsel review this,” said Allard.

“I think we have to develop a mutual understanding with Goffstown about what happens if the AREA agreement expires,” said Ouellet. “We're in uncharted territory here. We think it's important to sit down with school board members from Goffstown.”

New Boston School Board Vice Chairman Wendy Lambert also said it appears her town wouldn't need to repay its portion of the bond if the AREA agreement expired and it left the SAU.

“But we're waiting for legal counsel to get the final decision on that,” Lambert said.

Dunbarton is exploring the possibility of an AREA agreement with Bow and becoming part of SAU 67.

New Boston is not as far along in the process as Dunbarton, although it has contacted other districts such as Amherst, Bedford, Milford and Weare.

“The other districts aren't ready for another district to come on board,” said Lambert. “Where Bow is courting Dunbarton, we don't have anybody that's courting us.”

While Dunbarton has searched for a district willing to accept 100 students at the high school level, New Boston needs to find a district to provide schooling for 400.

New Boston has also discussed building its own middle and high school and is researching the costs.

If both districts pull out of the AREA agreement, Goffstown could lose up to $6 million in revenue. Goffstown's tax rate could increase as much as $4.45 per $1,000, said SAU 19 Business Administrator Ray Labore. That estimate doesn't include any decrease from lower costs associated with fewer students, he said.

Goffstown residents will have an opportunity to discuss the town's AREA agreement at a forum at Goffstown High School on Monday, which will include a review of the current agreement among Goffstown, New Boston and Dunbarton, as well as proposals made by school boards of the three towns for a new agreement.

According to SAU 19 Superintendent Stacy Buckley, most of the changes proposed by the two sending towns are minor or clear up language that isn't clear in the current agreement.

“Anybody picking up this agreement should be able to understand it,” she said.

Buckley said the New Boston School Board is requesting voting rights on school board subcommittees.

Dunbarton will also hold a public hearing for its residents Wednesday.

New Boston hopes to have a meeting regarding the AREA agreement and researching other educational options sometime in mid-October.

Dunbarton and New Boston will present the renegotiated AREA agreement with Goffstown at their school district meetings in March, allowing voters to choose whether to let the agreement expire.

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Kathy Remillard may be reached at kremillard@newstote.com.


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