PLAISTOW — Members of the School Administrative Unit 55 Withdrawal Planning Committee heard residents voice their concerns of the district's possible divorce from unit partner Hampstead and the plan to do so at a public hearing Tuesday night.

SAU 55 currently consists of the Timberlane Regional School District that houses students from Plaistow, Atkinson, Sandown, and Danville, and the Hampstead School District. A citizen's petition last March on the warrant article passed for the formation of a committee to study the feasibility of the two districts separating. 

Despite questions regarding the logistics of the actual withdrawal plan, district moderator and Plaistow Selectmen Steven Ranlett frequently reminded speakers to stay on topic and not repeat questions about budget items, legal costs, state law warrant article wording, and the number of SAU staff in the proposed single district. 

Committee Chair Kim Farah started the hearing with a slideshow, discussing the 150-page plus plan, outlining topics such as the differences between a multi- and one district SAU, educational impacts of the withdrawal, and the transition plan. The most controversial issue about the plan was the proposed single district organizational chart.

"Dr. Farah said with great certainty this would not cost us anything," Plaistow resident Jack Sapia said, calling the budget projections "guesstimates, at best. We now know that that's wrong. They have budgeted based on an org chart."

Committee member Jen Silva refuted the claim, saying "that budget was not budgeted on an org chart." 

The topic about the role of the assistant superintendent in the organizational chart was discussed, causing confusion about whether or not it was budgeted in the proposed single district SAU. A point was made that the position was almost solely devoted to Hampstead despite Timberlane footing most of the salary bill. 

Sapia asked Superintendent Earl Metzler "on a day-to-day basis do you see this conversely where SAU employees spend above that 77%, 80%, 90% of their time just on Timberlane and if you had to put it a scale who does that advantage or disadvantage?"

Metzler stated that Sapia's comment is "completely inaccurate" noting on any given week all of the assistant superintendent's time could be spent on Timberlane. 

However, Farah addressed Sapia's question by reading the minutes from a 2015 Hampstead School Board meeting where Wilson noted "'although Hampstead pays 23% of the bill they get 80 to 90% of my time."

Other topics concerned functionality over headcount for the potential district, technology swap-over of Hampstead's documents, number of lawyers, audits, and budgets, and why committee member Sabrina Alberg voted no and member Mark Sherwood abstained from voting for the withdrawal to move forward was also brought up during the hearing. 

Hampstead School Board Chair Caitlin Parnell also read a statement on behalf of the board, stating why they favored the withdrawal, noting factors such as reducing the number of board meetings.

Now that the public hearing has passed, the committee will be submitting the plan to the State Board of Education to review, and should it pass, it will be submitted to the Timberlane Regional School Board to be put on the March 2020 ballot. 

Should the warrant article pass, the Timberlane district will begin its own SAU on July 1, 2021. 

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