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Valley News – Croydon school budget cut sets up high-stakes battle over future of town’s education system

CROYDON – Amid all the changes that have come to education in this town over the past decade, one thing has remained inviolable: Croydon Village School.

Known in town as “Little Red,” the school dates to 1780 and is fondly thought of as one of the region’s and the nation’s last one-room schoolhouses. The small brick building, supplemented by a temporary classroom, is a vessel of cherished memories for generations of residents.

Kaplan Scanlon’s 10-year-old son attended Croydon Village School, and his 5-year-old daughter is looking forward to starting kindergarten in the fall, not least because her teacher will be her paternal grandmother, Mary-Beth Scanlon.

“I’m going to have to tell her,” Kaplan Scanlon said, that “it looks like there won’t be a Croydon Village School next year.”

Longtime residents are concerned that the March 12 vote that cut the Croydon school budget from the proposed $ 1.7 million down to $ 800,000 might spell the end of “Little Red.” Saving it has become a kind of rallying cry among residents seeking to reinstate the original budget at a 9 am meeting on May 7.

“Honestly, I have a lot of hope,” Scanlon said of the May 7 vote. “But I’m worried that it’s not going to happen.”

For the past decade or so, members of the Free State Project – a movement encouraging migration to New Hampshire to promote libertarian ideals – have turned this town into a kind of test bed for their ideas about public education.

The Croydon School Board adopted school choice in 2014 after leaving its long-standing agreement with the Newport School District, then withstood a lawsuit from the state Department of Education. Gov. Chris Sununu came to Croydon in 2017 to sign the so-called “Croydon bill,” which enables towns that lack schools for certain grades to pay tuition to nonsectarian private schools for students in those grades.

Residents have looked on these developments – sometimes eagerly, sometimes warily – and have been living with them.

But the drive for liberty might have pushed too hard against the town’s sense of community.

The budget cut, proposed through an unadvertised amendment from the floor, passed, 20-14, meaning only 3.5% of the town’s registered voters approved the cut. Even supporters of school choice are outraged by the March 12 vote and hope to overturn it.

“I think it’s horrible,” Angi Beaulieu, who was a member of the Croydon School Board when it adopted school choice, said in a phone interview.

“It was reckless and irresponsible to propose less than half of what the School Board was asking for with no plan.”

Beaulieu supported school choice in part because she felt that not all Croydon students were faring well at Newport schools. Croydon Village School was then a K-3 school and is now K-4. Through an agreement with Newport, Croydon students continued at Newport’s Richards School and then the middle and high schools. Now, they’re able to attend other public schools and private schools.

The budget approved March 12 puts an end to that by limiting spending to $ 10,000 per student. A pamphlet handed out on the day of the amendment vote cited tuition below $ 9,000 at Newport Montessori School and Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee.

“The schools that are educating for $ 10,000 a year are private schools and they don’t have to meet the same standards that public schools are held to,” Beaulieu said.

It would also limit students’ ability to participate in technical education, she noted.

“To not offer kids the opportunity to learn a trade in high school is just a detriment to our society,” she said.

Beaulieu went through Croydon Village School, as did her father. Her kids di lei, now 18 and 16, along with her husband’s two kids from a previous marriage, are the third generation.

“I have fond memories of it,” she said. At the time, there was a teacher and an aide for grades one to three and the aide prepared lunch in the school’s small kitchen.

When she moved on to Newport’s Towle Elementary, it was “a shock to the system,” but she wasn’t behind her peers academically and neither were her kids.

To meet the reduced budget, School Board members propose to use Kai and Prenda, private, for-profit companies. The state Department of Education extended its contract with Prenda in December at a cost of $ 5.8 million. Take helps schools set up “learning pods,” or “microschools” where students learn with help not from teachers but from “guides.”

Many Croydon residents are skeptical.

“This is a for-profit industry,” resident Ed Spiker said. “Is that really where you want your children’s education to come from?”

Spiker’s sons, ages 17 and 11, are in Newport schools, the eldest in the welding program at Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center. He sees the effort to restore Croydon’s school funding as a battle in a war for public education.

“This isn’t just a fight for Little Red and the students of Croydon,” Spiker said. “This is a fight for free and responsible public education for all children.”

He’s not alone in seeing Croydon’s conflict over school funding in a wider context.

Kris Cairelli, who teaches art part time at Croydon Village School, attended public schools in Connecticut, and she and her husband moved to Croydon from Piermont, which also has a small primary school and high school choice. Their son is in kindergarten at Little Red, and they’re working to overturn the budget cut.

“We want to make sure he has access to public education, like other children in America,” she said.

In a statement written March 11, Ian Underwood, a member of the Free State Project who lives in Croydon and who proposed the $ 800,000 budget, argued that the public should pay only for education necessary to “participate in the political, economic and social systems of to free government. ” That leaves out foreign languages, music, sports, calculus, welding and anything else not “necessary,” in his view of him.

That’s too narrow a view of public education, Cairelli said.

“I think a lot of the folks that are hoping to cut our schools just don’t understand the value of a well-rounded education,” Cairelli said.

As a member of the Croydon PTO, Cairelli was at the March 12 Town Meeting, selling baked goods to support the school. The budget cut was beyond her experience of hers.

“Something like this happening, I just never pictured in my wildest dreams,” she said.

The vote was a wake-up call for many in Croydon.

“Nobody expected something like this to happen, and a lot of us became complacent,” Kaplan Scanlon said, adding that he’d never heard of the Free State movement until a few months ago. The tactic – pushing through a huge policy change at a sparsely attended meeting – struck him and others as “underhanded.”

“This can happen in any town,” Scanlon said.

Now, supporters of Croydon Village School need to inspire a movement of their own. To restore the original budget, at least half of the town’s 565 registered voters will have to attend the May 7 meeting.

In the meantime, the School Board has presented the Croydon Village School’s small staff with letters of extension, Associate Principal Nicole Lackie said Friday. School districts need to tell employees by April 15 whether their contracts will be renewed, and the May 7 vote puts that on hold. With the outcome uncertain, school staff might start to look elsewhere for work.

“I don’t want to speak for them, because I don’t know,” Lackie said. “They have the right to look if they so choose.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3207.

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