Tough going for new-school initiative

LYNDEBOROUGH – In their push to resolve space-needs issues, Lyndeborough School District officials have found a giant obstacle – the state’s Official Ballot Law.

They say that law, known as SB 2, is flawed and should be repealed.

Two local men, David Roemer and Andrew Roeper, came to that conclusion following a recent public meeting to discuss the future of Central School, and are now circulating a petition to place the repeal of the law on the School District Meeting ballot in March.

Roemer is a member of the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School Budget Committee, and Roeper is chairman of the Conservation Commission.

In Lyndeborough, only the school district operates under the Official Ballot Law. The town still holds a traditional Town Meeting.

Placing a citizens’ petition on the official ballot requires the signatures of 25 registered voters. The organizers hope to have twice that many by the deadline in January.

“The input is very skewed,” Roemer said referring to the recent meeting at which 41 of the 73 people attending chose a new school as their preferred option.

“People come to such meetings biased,” Roemer said. “Those not in favor don’t attend.”

The same is true of those few people who attend the deliberative session, or first part of voting under SB 2. Those attending determine the ballot questions, and the other voters can only say yes or no.

If the question on the ballot is to build a new school and the voter would rather do a major renovation of the old school, he will vote no because he hasn’t had an opportunity to hear the other opinions and perhaps be persuaded, Roemer said.

Under SB 2, “you don’t have the opportunity to discuss the question in a meeting prior to voting, as at a traditional town meeting. There we have the opportunity to get something done. I feel SB 2 is really flawed when it comes to getting a major project voted.”

With a variety of options, and no chance to discuss them, compromise, or reach a consensus, nothing gets voted in, Roemer said. “The school board will just spin its wheels for years.”

Central School Board chairman Geoff Brock agreed.

“I think SB 2 was a good experiment,” he said, “but a traditional meeting provides a better democracy. People can learn what their neighbors think, hear all sides. At a meeting you can make compromises

Brock also sees a flaw in the process, if there is an unpopular proposal.

“With a simple ballot vote, you don’t get the feed-back about what is wrong, what people don’t like. There is no recourse, and the process (is delayed) another year while we try to discover what the town wants.”

Essentially the town has gleaned the wishes of only the 70 people who attended the forum on the school.

“I think we worked hard to find out what the town wants, and I don’t think we did,” Brock said. “From our survey 66 percent of the people want something expensive done to the school, but are divided as to what.”

He also noted that it is the people who attend the deliberative session who decide what goes onto the ballot, and those could be people with special interests.

But the School Board is not unanimous in backing the petition, Brock said. There are those who like the idea of more people voting, and who feel the voters are adequately educated.

“I’ll try to change their minds,” Brock said.