Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Local control of Concord public schools

In the House By Rep. Rick Watrous

There is an important bill that directly affects Concord citizens making its way through the State House. Your input could be crucial.

House Bill 319 would give taxpayers a chance to exercise local control over the Concord School District by giving citizens the opportunity to amend their school district charter without prior legislative approval.

As the law now stands, Concord citizens—unlike residents of all other districts—are unable to change their own school district charter. As one of the five Concord state representatives who are co-sponsoring this bill, I believe that Concord citizens should be able to amend their own school district charter without having to go through the State House.

Since 1961 Concord has had the only autonomous school district in the state. Up until the 1961 charter change, taxpayers were able to vote on their school district budget. The school district annual budget—now representing approximately 70 million dollars and 2/3’s of the tax base—is subject to approval by neither the voters nor the city council. Any attempt to change Concord’s school district charter has had to be approved by the NH House, Senate and Governor.

This unfortunate situation—which exists only in Concord—impedes home rule and puts the legislature in the midst of a strictly local situation. Concord citizens should possess local control similar to that of residents of other NH towns. If passed, HB 319 would simply give Concord voters the opportunity to amend their own school district charter under existing state law.

The bill was unanimously passed by the House Municipal Committee and passed the full House on the consent calendar. The bill is now being considered by the Senate. There was much support of the bill at the recent Public and Municipal Affairs Committee hearing. The only person who spoke in opposition was the attorney for the school district. He suggested forming a commission to study the bill, composed of state senators, representatives and other appointees.

This would be a lengthy and needless process, getting the state even more involved in what should be a local affair. It’s time for the state to step aside, pass HB 319, and let Concord citizens control their own school district by having the power to amend their charter. Any changes would then be voted on by the Concord taxpayers.

I urge citizens to contact the chair of the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, Senator Betsi DeVries (271-6933, betsi.devries@leg.state.nh.us) or Concord’s own senator, Senate President Sylvia Larson (271-2111, sylvia.larsen@leg.state.nh.us). Let them know that you support HB 319 and local control for Concord.

1 comment:

Ben Venator said...

I think there is a work-around to this. Pass legislation that requires all communities that receive funds as part of the building subsidy from the state have indicated their support either through a vote in town meeting or referendum prior to release of the state share.