EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 20, 2013

Residents to push charter school for Windham

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — Some residents are pitching a charter school to alleviate classroom crowding, as officials await engineering reports and analyze tax impacts from a potential middle school expansion.

Residents Tom Murray and Ken Eyring, chairman of the Windham Taxpayers Coalition, appeared before the School Board this week to request a meeting with officials to detail their charter school proposal.

School officials are not dismissing the idea.

“There is no reason we wouldn’t want to meet with you,” School Board member Stephanie Wimmer told them.

The school would serve as many as 300 students in a three-story building now under construction at 183 Rockingham Road.

“We are hoping to get this open by 2014,” Eyring said yesterday.

The school’s curriculum and grade levels remain to be determined, but could include classes between K-8, Eyring said.

The charter school advocates said they want to bring a detailed proposal to school officials within a month.

“Simply put, we’re trying to help the community that I live in alleviate some of the overcrowding and, at the same time, offer the best education possible for my children and the children of the community,” Murray said.

Eyring told school officials the charter school would offer a “zero-tax impact” solution for the town’s crowding problems.

“Windham Middle School is packed with students and it’s going to get worse over the next few years,” he said.

The charter school also would reduce the need for the school district to hire its own teachers, Eyring said.

The charter school proponents want to pursue approval through the School Board, instead of the state, because it would expedite the process and let the school give preference to admission of students from Windham.

Besides Murray and Eyring, the board of directors includes town residents Michelle Levell and Jim Fricchione.

Charter schools are blooming in Southern New Hampshire.

The 18th — Next School in Derry — opened this year. The Granite State Arts Academy is scheduled to open next September.

The Founders Academy is slated to open in Londonderry in January.

Its president and chairman, Thomas Frischknecht, is on the board of directors of the Educational Choices Foundation that would operate the Windham school.

The charter proposal came to officials as business administrator Adam Steel outlined the potential effect on taxpayers from a middle school addition costing $12 million to $17.5 million.

Steel’s scenarios showed figures ranging from 24 cents to 75 cents annually per $1,000 of property valuation, depending on the size of the project and the length of bond issue.

For the owner of a home valued at $350,000, that could mean as little as $82 up to $264 a year.

Officials, meanwhile, are spending up to $12,000 for more analysis of the middle school site.

“Some of the concerns that we have are whether we are going to lose the baseball field, whether we can even bring buses and traffic in from Heritage Hill Road and do something feasible with them going into the existing site, whether the loop road can make it up to that side of the building,” School Board Chairman Mike Joanis said.

Administrators and consultants are expected to have more details in time for a meeting Dec. 17 of the School Board.

“We continue to move toward a Jan. 7 drop-dead date of making a decision,” Joanis said.