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Middleton voters to weigh costs of leaving district

Union Leader Correspondent

March 04. 2014 8:40PM

FARMINGTON — The Farmington School Board pleaded with Middleton residents Monday to consider the cost of building and operating a new school before voting on a plan to sever a long-standing bond between two communities.

On March 11, Middleton residents will decide whether to withdraw from Farmington schools, accept a tuition agreement with the Governor Wentworth Regional School District and take out a $6,592,500 bond to build a new school along King’s Highway.

During a news conference before the regular school board meeting Monday night, the school board addressed the matter before a small crowd of residents — from Farmington and Middleton — and school officials.

They encouraged residents to consider the educational, financial and social impact of the proposal before they go to the polls.

Farmington School Board Chairman Joe Pitre warned voters not to act hastily.

“I believe Middleton folks are rushing into this project without thinking this thing through,” Pitre said, referring how Unity residents must pay $3 million more to fix an unfinished school, which was planned in two months — rather than taking up to two years, as allowed by the state during a withdrawal process.

Last month, Middleton officials estimated the tax impact for a 20-year loan could be $6.01 per $1,000 of valuated property — or about $1,000 in year three for a home valued at $170,000 — the median price in town. If Middleton received a community facility loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the estimated impact for a 30-year loan is $4.78 per $1,000 or $800 for a median-priced home.

Farmington’s Vice Chairman Penny Morin said she’s concerned that Middleton residents realize “the true cost of building a new school,” referring to the high point of the $6.6 million bond and the annual expenses to operate a school.

Morin said she wants Farmington and Middleton officials to “get back to the table” and work to improve the existing AREA agreement, which hasn’t been updated in four decades.

School board member Joel Chagnon, who served on the joint committee to study the feasibility of Middleton’s withdrawal, said sight of the goal “to provide the children of Middleton and Farmington the best education we can.”

“I have a lot of faith in both communities,” Chagnon said, adding he hopes the two towns can once again work together “when the dust settles.”

The bond in Article 2 — which requires a 60 percent majority to pass — would also allocate $210,000 for the interest of the first year’s bond payment to build a new school for students in kindergarten through grade 6 along King’s Highway. It will only go into effect if the articles regarding withdrawing and the tuition agreement also are approved.

In March, residents of Middleton and Governor Wentworth — which includes Brookfield, Effingham, New Durham, Ossipee, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro — must both separately approve the tuition agreement, which would allow local students in grades 7-12 to attend schools in Wolfeboro between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2025. The contract can be cancelled or extended in 2023.

If Middleton residents approve Article 6, the district could withdraw from the Authorized Regional Enrollment Area (AREA) agreement, which was enacted in 1972. If approved, Middleton students in grades 7-12 would no longer be educated in Farmington after July of 2015. Students in kindergarten through grade 6 would attend the proposed 27,500 square-foot school on district-owned property along King’s Highway.

The Middleton School Board plans to hold two more informational sessions — scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Old Town Hall along King’s Highway.

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