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Board brushes off scolding from Derry councilors who want town to absorb school district

By RYAN LESSARD
Union Leader Correspondent

June 14. 2018 12:29AM
Tuesday’s Derry School Board meeting went past 10:30 p.m. (Ryan Lessard/Union Leader Correspondent)

DERRY — At the end of a marathon Derry School Board meeting that went past 10:30 p.m., members addressed the scolding they received at a meeting with town councilors last week.

Councilors were disappointed the school board voted in May not to join a town council initiative to study absorbing the school district as a town department under the tax cap.

Town Council Chairman Jim Morgan sent the board a second invitation to send representatives to a joint subcommittee discussing language for a bill and warrant article aimed at absorbing the district.

Several board members expressed a willingness to meet with town councilors to discuss ways of reducing costs, but none are willing to discuss the school district becoming a town department.

“We’re not willing to entertain absorption of the district,” said board member Derick Anderson.

A non-binding referendum to pursue such a plan passed in March with 52 percent of the vote.

Board secretary Erika Cohen said the town council mischaracterized her vote as an unwillingness to cooperate.

“My no vote was not a dismissal of the March vote,” she said, noting the March vote “was very close.”

When the town council and school board met earlier in the year, the tone of the meeting was characterized as upbeat and cordial. Later, after town councilors worked with state legislators to create a bill to enable the town’s takeover, school board members said they felt betrayed for having been kept in the dark.

Reading from a prepared statement, school board member Paul Lutz said the actions of the town council were “duplicitous ” and “underhanded” and ruined trust and goodwill between the groups.

Cohen now wants to discuss other solutions with the town council.

Board member Dan McKenna agreed, but said he wouldn’t participate in any meeting dedicated to discussing making the school district a town department.

“I don’t think that’s the right conversation at this point,” he said.

McKenna said he would like to see the two bodies work together to solve the issue of downshifting costs from the state. He also took issue with councilors who suggest the board has mismanaged district finances, pointing to several instances where the district was able to keep costs down.

Cohen said the district has faced financial difficulties, such as rising tuition at Pinkerton Academy and a new teacher contract that has cost millions more over the past two years.

Brenda Willis, school board vice chairman, said it is disappointing town officials are making public statements school officials don’t want to work with them. She said that is false.

Lynn Perkins, school board chairman, said he wants the two bodies working together so they can focus on other important matters.

“It’s just become such a distraction,” Perkins said.

The school board did not vote on whether or not to send members to the town’s subcommittee meeting.

ldnews@unionleader.com


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