Gaye Ruble: GRS Withdrawal Study

To the editor:

This letter is in response to the letter written by Dennis Tupick in regard to the Gorham Randolph Shelburn Cooperative Withdrawal Study.

In his letter, Mr. Tupick expressed concern over the workings of the committee charged with reviewing whether or not it is practical for Randolph to withdraw. Furthermore, Mr. Tupick claimed that neither I nor Selectman John Turner “have provided any input whatsoever to fulfilling the charter Randolph residents imposed on the cooperative — to conduct a thorough study inclusive of alternatives to the present obsolete and costly cooperative agreement.”

This simply is not true. The entire committee is fulfilling its obligation to conduct a comprehensive study as to the feasibility and suitability for Randolph to withdraw from the cooperative, in accordance with N.H. RSA 195:25.

I moved to Randolph in December 2013. I have no history or emotional investment, pro or con, regarding the cooperative agreement. I never have nor ever will have children attending school in Coos County. However, I am a veterinarian who fully understands the importance of a high quality K-12 education and the tremendous impact this has on one’s future, in terms of college and beyond. I am an objective participant in this study.

Mr. Tupick made many claims in his letter to Randolph residents that are not backed up by data.

During our study, which has been underway since May, the committee has gathered a plethora of data regarding the costs to educate our children. Despite numerous discussions during our meetings, Mr. Tupick continues to be fixated on only one number: the cost per student. School boards negotiate tuition agreements, and he is correct in that Randolph could negotiate these with various SAU’s, including SAU 36 (White Mountains Regional School District) and SAU 3 (Berlin). But those costs, which are now as much as $18,000 per student, are only tuition costs. Randolph also has SAU and transportation costs, and these will continue regardless of the outcome of the withdrawal study. While our cost per student is $20,503 for Fiscal Year 2017, this is almost exactly what it was in FY 2014. So Mr. Tupick’s “conservative estimate” of student cost escalating to $30,000 in five years if we remain in the cooperative is not based on any data.

Furthermore, our committee reviewed the numbers, and if Randolph withdraws from the cooperative, our cost per student will increase, regardless of which school the students attend.

Mr. Tupick is also focused on “fairness.” In his opinion, it’s not fair that Gorham’s per student costs are about half of Randolph’s per student costs. This is due to factors out of Randolph’s control.

Gorham, as well as Berlin, Lancaster and Jefferson, all receive significantly larger adequacy grants than Randolph. This additional revenue lowers their per pupil costs. What he fails to mention in his letter is that Randolph’s school tax rate is significantly lower than Gorham’s.

In fact, it has been steadily decreasing since we joined the cooperative. This is not simply because we have fewer students, as our numbers have fluctuated up and down by as much as 25 percent. The bottom line is that focusing on comparing our costs to Gorham’s costs is a waste of time and not relevant to this study.

School choice is a hot button issue and is relevant to this discussion. The committee has assessed the programs of dtudy at Berlin, GRS Cooperative and WMRSD. There are some programs offered at Berlin and WMRSD that are not offered at our vooperative, but the converse is true as well.

Mr. Tupick laments the fact the “SAU 20 services have diminished considerably and now lack in-house vocational study.”

The GRS Cooperative offers an incredible number of academic classes, especially given our small enrollment (approximately 230 for the middle/high school). The strength of our academic program is demonstrated by strong SAT scores, which are higher than the state or national average; negligible dropout rate; and the large percentage of graduating seniors enrolled in two- to four-year colleges.

While we may not have vocational classes in-house, we partner with Berlin so that those types of classes are available to our students, and we adjust their academic schedules accordingly. The cooperative also uses White Mountains Community College's offsite program for non-traditional studies. In addition, we have a school-to-career program, whereby we partner with local businesses to expose our students to various vocations in our community. Finally, Gorham High School also offers some online classes for students with interests outside the school-offered curriculum.

Mr. Tupick failed to mention the fact that ALL of the SAUs are cutting programs. Educators in the North Country are facing huge challenges, and all SAUs are being forced to make difficult choices. Budgets are decreasing as our population base and school enrollment shrinks. No one wants higher property taxes and thus all SAUs are doing everything possible to manage costs.

This requires us to work together, and these types of discussions are ongoing. This is not the time for Randolph to be exiting a cooperative, as then we will have no input into these discussions. Currently, Randolph has a say in the program of study, quality of teachers and administrators hired, and the technology and extracurricular activities available to our children attending school in the cooperative. If we exit, we lose our voice. Some may argue we would have a voice via “choice,” but given current projections, our options will be more limited than they are today, and it is unlikely that any school will offer the breadth of programs everyone wants for their children.

At our last meeting, the committee voted that it was not feasible for Randolph to withdraw from the cooperative. As a Randolph citizen and taxpayer, as well as a mother, grandmother and a woman with a strong academic background, I strongly agreed with this decision.

Gaye Ruble, DVM, MPH
Randolph
School Board Member