At its meeting on 4/22, the Ad Hoc Committee on Interdistrict Educational Cost Savings voted to explore the possibility of operating a single school under the joint authority of Hampton and Scotland. Using this year's numbers, such a school would house approximately 160 students. At this early stage, it is impossible to determine the ultimate impact on town finances, but Hampton and Scotland both spend in excess of $2 million to operate their individual schools, and it is reasonable to think that a single school would cost significantly less. To put it another way, this arrangement might be our best hope of keeping our grade schools sustainable, while maintaining local control.
The committee decided to look into two questions. First, how could such a school be governed such that the two towns maintain their direct control? The state allows school boards to create cooperative agreements, and our intention is to see if we can fashion one of those that gives each town an equal say in the operation of the school.
Second, the committee has determined that educational considerations must be part of the discussion from the beginning. Saving money alone is not a sufficient reason to make such a major change, so we want to have an idea of what such a school would offer.
I have already heard from residents concerned that forming another committee to look into educational reform creates a level of instability that is bad for teachers, students, and the towns as a whole. That is a valid point. Our towns do have a reputation, mostly earned, for unsettled educational systems. But I would point out that there are reasons for this: namely, the combination of declining populations and increasing demands on the schools to provide a myriad of services to students. Fewer people are footing a higher bill to educate a dwindling number of students--this cannot be sustained. And while ongoing discussion may have some negative impact on real estate values, our home prices are already suppressed by the high taxes we pay, even compared to neighboring towns. Not to look into alternatives, even at the cost of a perception of instability and the risks it entails, would be irresponsible.
People have also asked why it is only Hampton and Scotland, and not Chaplin or other districts, that are in this discussion. There is no single answer to this question, but the most important may be practical: the two towns together have a student population that can fit comfortably into one of the buildings we already operate. It is possible that we could jointly operate a school with minimal costs for new construction or infrastructure development.
A related question is why we don't just expand Regional School District 11 into a K-12 region. Again, there is no single answer, but the last time this question was brought to referendum, it failed. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, and there is nothing to say that the question cannot be revived, but for now it seems prudent to consider a smaller move, one that can be achieved by cooperative agreements created by the two towns working together. And we should all bear in mind that it is possible that the committee will determine that this solution is not practical. The conclusion is not foregone.
Hampton and Scotland have an opportunity here to work together to create solutions to a problem that is only getting worse. And we are not alone. Rural districts around the state are experiencing similar distress. If we determine that this approach can succeed, and if the voters of the towns agree, then we might pave the the way for other towns experiencing fiscal distress driven by educational costs, but reluctant to surrender local control. It is also important to remember that the disparity between our educational needs and our resources is not going away or getting smaller, and if we don't solve this problem locally, then the state is likely to solve it for us in ways that may bring about a genuine loss of local control.
In the next weeks, we will be seeking people from each town to serve on committees that will explore each of these questions. We'd like representation from parents, educators, and citizens-at-large. Anyone interested in participating in this effort, or with questions or comments about it, should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org