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Goffstown faces transitions after recent school votes

GOFFSTOWN - The school district is facing a period of transition and uncertainty following staff changes and the votes that took place in Goffstown and Dunbarton last week.

And officials from both communities agree that in the days ahead much will need to be done to address the developments of the last several days.

--Dunbarton voters elected to enter into an Authorized Regional Enrollment Agreement with Bow in 2014 instead of renewing their 40-year AREA agreement with Goffstown, meaning Dunbarton middle and high school students will attend schools in Bow instead of Goffstown beginning in September of next year. More than 500 people packed into the Dunbarton Community School gym for the school district meeting on Saturday. It was one of the largest school district meetings in recent memory. "This is unprecedented, the number of people here," Moderator Fred Mullen said.

--Mountain View Middle School Principal Jim Hunt resigned on Friday, after seven years at the helm of the school, ending a tenure during which the administration came under criticism for allegedly creating a hostile and dysfunctional climate for some teachers and staff members there. Hunt's resignation came after the release of a consultant's report, commissioned by the school board at a cost of $35,500, which examined the culture and climate at the school. Hunt declined to be interviewed by the consultants, and the report did not directly address his leadership of the school.

--On March 11, it was announced that SAU 19 Superintendent Stacy Buckley had been offered the superintendent's post in the Newfound Area School District. Although she has not yet tendered her resignation in Goffstown, she is expected to take the Newfound Area School District job after she negotiates and signs an agreement with officials there.

--On March 12, Goffstown voters rejected a warrant article seeking approval of a $14.5 million bond issue to finance renovations to both Maple Avenue and Bartlett elementary schools.

"We're sad that Dunbarton will be leaving our family," said Allard of Dunbarton's AREA vote. "But with everything that we've heard in recent weeks, it was not unexpected."

Dunbarton's decision means the loss of approximately $2 million in annual revenue to the Goffstown School District, which could translate to a tax hike of $1.40 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, Goffstown Budget Committee Chairman Peter Georgantas has said. Currently, approximately 200 Dunbarton students attend Goffstown's middle and high schools.

Also at issue is approximately $880,000 which Goffstown officials say will be owed to them by Dunbarton once its students begin attending classes in Bow. That money, according to Goffstown School Board members, represents Dunbarton's share of bond repayments. The money raised from the bond issue was used to finance improvements to the high school.

"If we had left the (AREA) agreement, then I would say, yes, we would be obligated because that would have been a breach of contract," said Dunbarton School Board Chairman Rene Ouellet. However, because Dunbarton is letting the AREA agreement expire, Ouellet said the town is under no obligation to make repayments on the bond.

Not so, said Goffstown School Board member Keith Allard. "The consensus of the Goffstown School Board is that we do not agree with that position," he said. "And we've come to that position after discussing it with legal counsel."

Despite the disagreement, Ouellet said he and others from Dunbarton are willing to continue to discuss the matter with Goffstown.

This week, SAU 19 officials will begin looking for educators to replace both Superintendent Buckley and former MVMS Principal Jim Hunt.

In a statement released last week, Buckley said an interim principal will be put in place for the remainder of the school year.

Allard said the decision of whether to move forward with a different proposal for the renovations to the two elementary schools will be up to the full school board. On March 12, Goffstown residents rejected a proposed $14.5 million bond proposal by a vote of 1,146 to 1,060. It marked the second year in a row that voters turned down a bond issue for the renovations.

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