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January 08. 2014 10:33PM

Farmington school official: Middleton withdrawal would be 'catastrophic'

FARMINGTON — School Superintendent Steven Welford predicted the potential withdrawal of Middleton students from Farmington schools would be "catastrophic" for Farmington, with $3 million lost from the schools' $16 million annual budget.

On a request from the State Board of Education, Welford was told to provide an assessment regarding the schools and what changes could occur if Middleton withdraws from Farmington. Welford predicted the 18.8 percent reduction in revenues — mostly from the potential loss of annual tuition from Middleton — could result in the loss of 65 full-time equivalent positions, the elimination of the athletic program, a reduction in elective opportunities and adjustments to Special Education programs and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Before the board unanimously agreed to send the report to legal counsel and a copy of it to Middleton officials by the end of the week, residents and officials discussed the matter during the televised school board meeting Tuesday night.

"Tonight isn't about a back-up plan — it's about a worst-case scenario," Welford said, stressing the report was just a "theoretical" and "academic" exercise to explain to the state how the town would be affected.

Laura Vittorioso, a parent of two students in Farmington, asked what residents could do to prevent Middleton's withdrawal and ensure the schools don't have to deal with substantial cuts.

"It's seemed to balloon out of control," Vittorioso said. After studying the issue for the past six months, Middleton officials believe it is feasible to conduct a phased withdrawal from Farmington. It proposes to send grades 7-12 to Gov. Wentworth Regional School District in Wolfeboro after July 1, 2015. The remaining students in pre-kindergarten through grade 6 would move into the new school — which also must be approved by voters in March — the following year.

Wanda Thivierge, who represented the school board on the withdrawal committee, said some Middleton officials and residents feel Gov. Wentworth would provide better education for students.

Joel Chagnon, who also served with Thivierge on the withdrawal committee, said it remains unclear how Middleton residents feel about separating from Farmington, join Gov. Wentworth and build their own $6.5 million school — which requires a 60 percent majority — in town.

"Keep in mind, it has to be approved by Middleton voters," Chagnon said, adding so far that only a minority of people have expressed their intent on the proposal.

Additionally, according to the tuition agreement with Gov. Wentworth, residents in that district — which includes Brookfield, Effingham, New Durham, Ossipee, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro — must also agree to accept Middleton's students.

For more information, visit www.sau61.org or www.middletonnh.gov.

jquinn@newstote.com


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