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Petition asks for study of withdrawing from Merrimack Valley district

WEBSTER — Residents of Webster and Salisbury want to know if they can do better in a a different school district.

So petitions with more than 200 signatures from residents of both towns are being presented to the Merrimack Valley School District, asking for a study of the potential benefits of leaving the district and educating students somewhere else.

Backers of the petitions are clear in their intention.

“We are not in favor of withdrawing from the school district, at least not now,” said Webster Selectman Mason Donovan. “We just want to know what our options are.”

Since the five-town district was formed in the 1960s, “no town has ever done a withdrawal study,” he said.

Donovan and proponents of the study have several concerns about continuing to send students to Merrimack Valley schools. Cost is one factor, as the town paid about $273,000 to the district for its last year, and the town budget last year was about $1.2 million, he said.

But residents also would like to reduce the commute times to school, which is as much as an hour each way for some residents. Some question if students might do better in another school system nearby, he said.

“We just want a study to see what we want to do. We’re all a little bit in the dark on what the possibilities are,” Donovan said.

“In the end, we may find we’re already in the best place right where we are.”

If the petitions are presented and accepted by the school board, a committee would be formed to study the withdrawal possibilities. Within 180 days after the date of its formation, the committee would report its findings to the state Board of Education.

If the study finds withdrawal is not a viable option, the town that voted to undertake the study may submit a minority report.

If the state board approves a withdrawal plan, residents in the district get a chance to vote on the proposal.

Donovan said Webster owns its school building, so it would likely not have a huge debt to the Merrimack Valley district if it withdrew.

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