Fall Mountain’s Problem

I have recently heard some feedback regarding my position on Chexit (Charlestown’s withdrawal from Fall Mountain School District). This was interesting to me since I have not taken a position. I have not done so because of two factors:

  1. Charlestown is split on the issue and I represent you all.
  2. I also represent Acworth, Langdon, and Lempster who may have diverging interests in this issue.

I can comment on some things that are universally a problem for all of my constituents. A prime example is the level that the discourse has risen to. In the NH House, we have a rule that a Member may not speak to the motives behind a bill being brought forward. First of all, it is irrelevant. Second, impugning or indicting the motives of someone breeds animosity and makes it difficult to work together afterwards. Finally, the issue that warrants attention are the actual facts of the bill. Lately I have seen people saying things like “they only want to withdraw because…..”. Even worse, some begin “those people just….”. The most quoted speech at the deliberative session had a strong focus on motive. At this moment, this is the biggest problem to overcome and you can all solve it. Simply don’t tolerate it. The issue is not tearing the community apart. People who focus on motive rather than facts tear the community apart. We’re getting into a pattern where even prolific posters on the forum who have always been paragons of civility have been letting it slide in comments on their posts. That must end.

Universal problem 1 – The Articles of Agreement

I am sure that the drafters had the best intentions. They were trying to craft a method that treated each town as a sovereign entity. This has failed on two levels. First, in trying to treat each town separately, you never got an agreement that created a “one-district” mentality. With different counting methods for each town and category of cost, an appearance of separatism was created. Second, you got an agreement that is unique in the state. No other district has this complex an agreement, and with good reason.

Universal problem 2 – Lack of transparency and distrust

In other districts, you can look up a few numbers that are publicly available and figure out what your town owes the district with a simple calculation. We don’t have that. A cursory review of the forum discussions shows that most people need to talk to someone else to get the number or explanation. When you are starting with an atmosphere of conflict and distrust, having to get the school district to explain the bill is not helpful, even when they are correct. This adds to the atmosphere of conflict because they are an interested party to the issue. You need to be able to verify it yourself, as in almost every other district in the state. It is simply a best practice and a real problem for all of us to solve.

Universal problem 3 – Lack of focus in deliberations

When the conversation gets tough, a lot of people are defaulting to “it is a state funding issue”. I disagree. A complex apportionment formula that may or may not be fair is still a problem for all the reasons cited above, even if it costs me less. Pumping more money in just masks the problem, for now. Keep the local focus on the district agreement because that is what only you can affect and don’t be distracted by other debates. Is the Fall Mountain agreement clear and fair or not? This is the debate you should be having prior to Town Meeting. Charlestown just got well over an extra million dollars allocated to it by the state. Did it help your problems? I don’t think so. We need transparency and you don’t have it.

Universal problem 4 – Opposition is better when it begins “Yes, but…”

Here is my observation. I may be wrong; this is simply what I see. It is indisputable that the status quo in Fall Mountain School District is a problem. When 300 people show up at a deliberative session and neighbors are turning on each other, a change is needed. Who is trying to work on it? The withdrawal committee is proposing ideas and plans. Have I missed the other side? I hear members of the school board and district personnel tearing down the withdrawal committee and proposal. Who is working on the alternative? Who is working on the new simple, transparent articles of agreement that would eliminate the distrust and suspicion? Who is proposing a “one district solution” that addresses all of our concerns? I wish that I had two plans for reform to choose between. At the beginning of this process, I was naive and optimistic. I honestly believed that the uproar and progression of the withdrawal movement would finally prod the district, board, and other towns to recognize that our unique situation is something to be solved. I thought that the result would be a solution that made withdrawal obsolete. Instead, I just see a lot of back and forth yelling “withdraw!”, “don’t withdraw!”. I hope that in the short time we have left, some brilliant group proposes an alternative. That is my sincere hope and I am so disappointed.

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Bait and Switch

I’ve learned that SAU 60 has planned to use Charlestown’s money for updates to the school entrances and other projects. The rumor, admittedly unconfirmed, was that they stated that “the state” wanted it used for projects. The first thing that you should know as I enter my 10th year representing Charlestown is that Fall Mountain School District has never, not once, asked me about the legislative intent of a new law or funding method. Not once in almost ten years. The second thing that you should know is that I authored and sponsored multiple bills which would have stopped the stabilization grant reductions which are one of our largest problems. Those bills have been systematically killed. What we ended up with was a supplemental grant that ended up being called an “infrastructure” grant because of the fund that the money was coming from. We didn’t quibble about the title because the dollar amount was right. I can say that because I met with Finance Committee members and the Governor’s staff. All said the same thing.

There is zero doubt that the intent was that this be used for tax relief. The Governor’s exact words were “they can use it for anything they want, but we hope that it is used for tax relief”. The money was supposed to get towns like Charlestown back to where they were before the grant reductions began. Multiple demonstrations, protests and hearings about the grant reductions were held. Multiple people spoke out about it, some local. This money is what we got out of it all and literally the only reason that I voted for the budget.

Districts without a significant tax disparity issue may choose to use some of their money for projects. It is after all your money and local control matters. There are two districts in the state which certainly do not fall into this category. Fall Mountain is one of them. Claremont and Charlestown have the highest education tax rates in the state. There is no nuance here. The intent was that 100% of the money go to tax relief. The original intent was also that this money be sent directly to the towns. After the bill got through the rules process and other after-processes, it was determined that the money needed to be disbursed to the districts on the towns’ behalf.

I feel cheated. I have been fighting this battle for years. We reached a good faith agreement on a solution. Then,the rug was yanked out from under us. We should not be back in the position of having to fight the school board, administration, and other towns to get our money back. That is where we are though.

Steve

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Thank You Veterans

Today is Veterans Day. There is no apostrophe because it is not a day that belongs to Veterans. It is a day for all of us to honor Veterans. The Korean War memorial is engraved with the message “Freedom Is Not Free”. Take a moment today to thank a veteran for volunteering to don a uniform and risk all to protect what so many take take for granted.

Read some history about the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month here – https://www.npr.org/2019/11/11/777635075/remembering-the-1st-veterans-memorialized-by-veterans-day

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