District merger plan set for vote

WILTON – While members of the Wilton-Lyndeborough School Consolidation Committee aren’t yet totally happy with the wording of the proposed articles of agreement, they all agree on one thing: They need to be written in “plain, easy-to-understand English.”

Committee members said legalese, even if it’s in state statutes, is confusing to ordinary people.

Discussions have been under way for some time about merging the Wilton, Lyndeborough and Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative school districts into a single district governed by a combined school board.

After a recent vote by Wilton’s Florence Rideout School Board, the three school boards agreed to bring the plan to a district vote in March.

Board members also generally agreed that while forming a total cooperative district from kindergarten through grade 12 – with the combined district assuming all debts and ownership of all buildings – is the most logical plan, current political realities would probably prevent that from happening.

Those realities include concerns about local control of schools, taking on the debt for the proposed Florence Rideout renovation and Lyndeborough’s independent-minded residents who don’t want the town to become a suburb of Wilton.

Consequently, the plan being brought forth next year combines only the administration: one school board of nine members, one master teacher contract, one bus contract, one coordinated curriculum and one set of state reports to file. Each town would continue to own its schools and be responsible for any debts incurred.

One of the biggest problems in the superintendent’s office has been overseeing four school districts – Wilton, Lyndeborough, Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative and Mascenic. Each district requires the same amount of paperwork.

Although Mascenic will leave SAU 63 next July, the new Mason School District, recently separated from Mascenic, will remain in SAU 63, so there will still be four districts. Combining all Wilton and Lyndeborough schools would reduce that to two.

“The central office has been overworked,” Lyndeborough Chairman Geoff Brick said. “It won’t continue working as it has. If we stay the course, we’ll need more staff. If we consolidate, we won’t.”

“It should be a matter of quality, not quantity,” SAU business manager Dan Starr said. “I don’t have time to make a real budget analysis, find places to save money, see what items could be combined.”

The proposed articles of agreement include:

The new school board would have five Wilton members and four Lyndeborough members. The entire board would be re-elected with staggered terms.

The new cooperative district would hold a traditional school district meeting. Only the Lyndeborough district currently operates under Senate Bill 2, and that district would disappear.

Any changes in location of grades, such as moving the sixth grade to the middle school, would require a vote of the district.

The rewritten articles will be sent to the state Department of Education as soon as all committee members have approved the revised wording. The next meeting will be set after word has been received from the DOE.