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March 16. 2013 4:54PM

Dunbarton votes to pull students out of Goffstown schools

DUNBARTON — Hundreds of Dunbarton residents packed the school district meeting Saturday and voted to remove the town's approximately 200 students from Goffstown's middle and high schools and send them to Bow instead in 2014.


The first vote, which was 286 to 161, was to reject continuation of an Authorized Regional Enrollment Area agreement with Goffstown. The second vote, which was 298-101, was to send Dunbarton's students to Bow.


The move means a loss of approximately $2 million in revenue to the Goffstown School District, which translates to a possible tax hike of approximately $1.40 per $1,000 of property valuation, according to Goffstown Budget Committee Chairman Peter Georgantas. Voters in Goffstown rejected the school budget and a $14.5 million bond in voting last Tuesday.


Mountain View Middle School and Goffstown High School currently house students from Goffstown, Dunbarton and New Boston.


The Mountain View Middle School principal, Jim Hunt, who was facing increasing criticism for allegedly creating a dysfunctional and hostile educational environment for faculty and staff, resigned Friday. Some had speculated his resignation could prompt Dunbarton voters to stick with Goffstown.


The school district commissioned a consultant, at a cost of $35,500, to examine any problems at the middle school and recommend solutions. Hunt did not participate in the consultant's study. The consultant's report, finished recently, did not directly address the criticisms of Hunt's leadership but did acknowledge a prevailing sentiment among students and staff that improvements were needed in the academic, social and professional climate at the school.


SAU 19 Superintendent of Schools Stacy Buckley also is leaving, after taking a position as superintendent in the Newfound Area School District in Bristol. She has said an interim principal will be hired while officials look for Hunt's permanent replacement.


The agreement between Bow and Dunbarton will take effect July 1, 2014, and many Dunbarton students will leave Goffstown's schools in September 2014, though not all at once. Discussions will be under way for a phase-out of those students who want to graduate from Goffstown High School, officials said.


The Dunbarton Community Center, which is also the Dunbarton Elementary School's gym and cafeteria, was filled to its 550-person maximum on Saturday, according to Fire Chief Jon Wiggin. At one point, it was announced that no one else would be permitted to enter the room.


"This is unprecedented, the number of people here," Moderator Fred Mullen said.


Voters debated the enrollment area issue for two hours before the vote was called, with some asking questions about Hunt's resignation.


Voters were mixed on whether Hunt's resignation had an impact on the vote.


"I personally don't think so," John Trottier said. "I've had no problems with Mountain View."


"I think it could have, but I don't think it was discussed enough," David Schroeder said.


Resident Theresa Williamson said she "did a happy dance" when she heard of Hunt's resignation, but had still planned to vote in favor of Goffstown.

After the vote, she said she was disgusted.


"Half of the kids will stay in Goffstown, and half will go to Bow," she said, adding that Dunbarton students attending Goffstown High likely will be able to complete their education in Goffstown. "I think that will fragment our community."


"I'm devastated," said resident Anne Carney. "I just felt we were so much of a community there."


Those in favor of Bow spoke highly of its reputation and small size, even those who do not yet have school-aged children.


"We're pleased," said Allison Rees, who has a 20-month daughter. She said she preferred Bow because it was more convenient, but she liked the size of Goffstown schools.


"I'm responsible for my children's education, no matter what school they go to," said husband Scott Mills.


Beth Ayers said she was "ecstatic" about the outcome, citing a preference for Bow's smaller size, its likeness to Dunbarton and academic reputation.


Bow Superintendent of Schools Dean Cascadden said he is looking forward to working to transition Dunbarton's students into the Bow community.


"We're excited," he said. "We're really looking forward to having Dunbarton as a partner."


Cascadden said his district will work on a transition that will work for Dunbarton students and their families.


"There is a lot of work to be done," he said.


Voters also approved all other warrant articles:


-- The district's operating budget of $5.4 million, which saw an increase from the floor of $50,000, to pay for a fifth-grade teacher position that had been cut.


-- A three-year collective bargaining agreement for teachers.


-- A $31,570 deposit to the Dunbarton School Capital Reserve Fund.


-- $1,000 for the Dunbarton Kitchen Equipment Fund.


kremillard@newstote.com


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