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Goffstown, Dunbarton, New Boston will meet to settle $255,000 tuition overpayment

GOFFSTOWN - Goffstown, New Boston and Dunbarton will meet Wednesday night with the state Department of Education to reach an agreement about an overpayment in tuition to Goffstown by the two sending towns.

New Boston and Dunbarton, who send students in grades 7 through 12 to Goffstown schools, each reduced their October tuition payments to Goffstown by thousands, in response to an overpayment of tuition over a span of several years.

Between them, the two towns estimate a total overpayment of about $255,000 in tuition to Goffstown.

The error was discovered by Dunbarton School Board member Jeff Trexler in October of 2011 as the school boards were preparing to re-negotiate their Authorized Regional Enrollment Area (AREA) agreement with Goffstown.

Trexler said he noticed a sudden jump in the Agreement rental charge rate for the fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12.

"All of a sudden, a flag went up," Trexler said, which prompted an audit of the rental charges back to the beginning of the agreement.

The overpayment came from an appraisal of Goffstown High School that was conducted by the Local Government Center at the request of the SAU, which included the contents of the building, as opposed to the cost of the structure alone.

Both towns are disputing the validity of the appraisal, notably, whether or not it meets the requirements of the AREA agreement.

Trexler also discovered there were years that Goffstown was underpaid because the towns were charged the same rental rate for several consecutive years, despite varying student enrollment numbers.

"The actual rate per kid should have fluctuated," he said.

According to Trexler, the rental charge paid to Goffstown is calculated by multiplying the value of the buildings and sites by 2.5%, then dividing that figure by the number of students during the prior school year.

The Goffstown School Board offered a settlement to the two towns, which neither accepted.

In an October 25 letter to the Dunbarton School Board, Goffstown School Board Chairman Philip Pancoast proposed to address the overpayment by spreading repayment over the next two years, beginning in the next fiscal year, but only for fiscal year 2011-2012.

"Under this proposal, the New Boston rental charge would be reduced $14,016.70 per year and the Dunbarton rental charge would be reduced by $7,753.12 in each year of the 2 year period," the letter read.

Pancoast did not indicate the number of years Goffstown would be willing to go back to correct the error, though New Boston school board Chairman Kevin Collimore said there is a three-year window in which to sue for an error.

"We really should go back to the beginning of the agreement and make it right," said Collimore.

Pancoast did not return calls or emails for comment.

In a letter to the Goffstown School Board dated November 21, Trexler explained to the Goffstown School Board the reasoning behind the reduction in Dunbarton's tuition payment.

"Dunbarton respectfully disagrees with your opinions and determinations, does not accept Goffstown's offer to refund only a small portion of the amount owed, and stands by our contention that LGC appraisals are invalid as detailed in our June 12, 2012 Position Statement," the letter read.

The letter went on to say that Dunbarton School District has a fiduciary responsibility that prevents it from voluntarily paying a higher rental charge, when Goffstown has stated that they do not intend to pay it back.

Collimore said that while an error has been made, he is hopeful that a repayment agreement with Goffstown can be reached at Wednesday's meeting.

"There is money to be paid back, but there is also a working relationship that we value a great deal," he said.

Collimore said he didn't think the repayment issue had much of an impact in the re-negotiation of the new AREA agreement, which is nearly complete.

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