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November 22. 2012 10:42PM

Deerfield committee to explore school options, including leaving Concord

DEERFIELD - The Deerfield School Board has formed a committee to take a closer look at its options for educating its high school-age students and that might include leaving Concord.

The town is approaching the end of its contract with Concord High School, which would allow them to terminate the agreement, potentially depriving the city school of the 188 students and $3,153,201 the town pays to Concord.

High School Advisory Committee members will study and visit three "high school of record" candidates - Oyster River High School in Durham, Pembroke Academy and Concord High School - and submit a comprehensive report to the school board with their observations and conclusions.

The committee has not been chartered to make a recommendation and at this time is considered an advisory body, having no decision-making powers.

The Deerfield School District and Concord High School's contract has a minimum duration of 10 years, at which point the town may present a letter of termination with three years' notice. Without this notice, the contract will hold good for another 10 years.

The contract is now in its ninth year, having been signed in June 2004, and Deerfield, finding itself in a very different position from the one it was in at the contract's signing, is considering its options.

Board members have dismissed the notion, however, that a move would imply any disappointment with the city school's performance, insisting instead that they are simply doing their due diligence for the town and its students.

"It's more exploring our options," said school board member Peter Menard. "We're just trying to be prudent and explore the options because education is important, and it's expensive."

Deerfield currently pays $13,926 per student, with total tuition for its 188 students at Concord High amounting to $2,618,088. With an additional $535,113 in special education fees, Concord will receive $3,153,201 from Deerfield for the 2011-2012 school year.

The contract stipulates a yearly tuition increase based on the highest number between cost increases, the Consumer Price Index, the Boston average, or a number of other figures. The original, 2004-2005 rate was $8,900 per student.

"I think there were surprises as to the tuition that was charged," said Menard, who was not on the school board when the contract was drafted and signed. "Increases in tuition were sometimes dramatic, and that took the town by surprise I think."

The Deerfield School District had made the city aware of its intention to evaluate their contract in June of last year, and explained the context and motivation for their move.

"We were told on more than one occasion that the community was happy with the education the students were receiving at Concord High, and that they were just wanting to make sure they were getting the best value for their tuition dollars," said Concord School Board President Kassandra Ardinger.

A 2009 UNH poll found that 97 percent of Deerfield parents agreed that "Concord High School meets the academic needs of the students." On the question of whether Deerfield was the best high school solution for their children, 73 percent of parents agreed.

Should the committee uncover that "best value" somewhere other than Concord, Ardinger believes that the city would be willing to negotiate to keep the Deerfield students.

"I'm sure that we would absolutely be willing to sit down and discuss the rate . and the ramifications of Deerfield potentially leaving Concord," said Ardinger. "We feel that Deerfield students provide Concord with a vibrant student body, and we treat them as any resident of Concord. I think that's one reason the parents are happy with the arrangement [but] they're going to have to look at all things related and we certainly hope they keep Concord in mind."

The High School Advisory Committee will have its first meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, at the Deerfield Community School library, 66 North Road.

The town also will host a public meeting, titled "High School Evaluations - Principal's Presentations," at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Deerfield Community School. In attendance will be the principals of Concord High, Oyster River High, and Pembroke Academy; each will offer presentations and answer questions for 30 minutes. A more general question-and-answer session will close the event.

The Deerfield School District has 200 high school students in total. The 12 who do not attend Concord High School attend Coe-Brown Northwood Academy in Northwood.

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Brendan Clogston may be reached at bclogston@newstote.com.


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