WESTMINSTER — Maybe it was the heat.
Tempers were a little frayed Wednesday night when members of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union started discussing whether parents might have the option of asking for a different school — across town lines — for their child.
WNESU Chairman Jack Bryar had brought up the issue, saying he had been approached by a handful of parents who, for various reasons, were interested in sending their child to an out-of-town school rather than their assigned school.
One of the reasons, he said, was the looming closure of the Route 121 Bridge in Westminster, which links the communities of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River. No date has been set for the bridge’s closure, but it is expected to last up to 18 months.
The bridge closure could mean changes in the various schools’ bus routes, Superintendent Andy Haas told the board, as well as which students attend which elementary school in the town of Rockingham.
Some Bellows Falls students attend Saxtons River Elementary, and some Saxtons River kids attend Central Elementary, which is in Bellows Falls, he pointed out.
Bryar said about “half a dozen” parents were interested in switching schools, which Bryar said he was calling “inter-district transfers.”
But the strongest — in fact, vehement — opposition to the proposal, or even discussing it, came from former WNESU Superintendent Christopher Kibbe, who is now a member of the Rockingham School Board, and one of its members on the supervisory union board.
Kibbe told Bryar he was courting “chaos” to even consider such an idea, and he said during the Act 46 school consolidation discussions several years ago Bryar had been against a district-wide elementary school system, which would have given parents and students more choice.
Kibbe said that Bryar and other school directors at the time wouldn’t even give him time to explain his proposal and its advantages.
“I’m right, you know I am,” said Kibbe. “It is chaos when that happens and it puts everyone at legal risk.”
He said to allow students “to jump between districts” would foster chaos and also open up the school district to lawsuits from parents who were not allowed to get such a transfer.
Kibbe said the law was clear, and the district had policies based on the law. He said he could see lawsuits over the issue.
It’s not the parent who gets approved, he said, it will be the parent who gets turned down.
“I am vehemently opposed,” said Kibbe.
During the Act 46 discussions and vote several years ago, Rockingham residents voted in favor of a multi-town school district, while the other towns — Westminster, Grafton and Athens — were against it, and thus launched their opposition to Act 46, the state’s school consolidation law.
It wasn’t just Kibbe who was upset with the idea, as the two other Rockingham School Board members, Priscilla Lambert and James McAuliffe, said the supervisory union had no place in the discussion, and that it was up to the individual town boards.
Earlier last week, in fact, Rockingham granted one of its school district employees the right to have her child attend the Bellows Falls Middle School, tuition-free.
“This is not the place,” said McAuliffe, who said it’s up to the individual town school boards. “It is Rockingham’s or Westminster’s prerogative,” he said.
Kibbe said he was bitter over the suggestion, and that he would fight it strenuously “in my limited capacity” as a single school board member.
Kibbe retired as superintendent in 2018 and was elected to the Rockingham board this past March.
The issue ultimately was dropped.
Earlier in the meeting, the board, with one abstention, voted to spend up to $68,241 to buy new accounting software for the district’s finance office.
James Vezina, the new finance director, made the request for Tyler software.
Lambert said she wanted to know the full costs of the new accounting software, including training. But other board members cut off discussion and voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new software.
Vezina, who has been on the job since May, said the state Agency of Education will be making a decision soon on whether to continue the eFinance software program, which has been a source of a lot of troubles for the Windham Northeast district for several years.
The money for the Tyler purchase was not budgeted, the board noted.