January 7, 2011

School district quorum has its defenders

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Having served on the School Board in her previous town for over five years before moving to Londonderry, resident Nancy Hendricks knows a thing or two about the workings of town and school politics. And that’s exactly why the mother of one says she’d prefer Londonderry leave the school district’s quorum requirement exactly the way it is.
Concerned over potential changes to the way Londonderry’s school district governs, Hendricks is far from alone in her opinion that having a quorum in place ultimately prevents small groups of one-sided citizens from overwhelming the
 deliberative session. “I think the quorum is the perfect solution,” Hendricks told the Union Leader this week. “The people have already spoken, and I’m hoping the judge rules in favor of the school district.”
As it stands now, the future of Londonderry’s 500-voter quorum requirement remains uncertain. Earlier this week, a
 court hearing at Rockingham Superior Court began the process of deciding the fate of a lawsuit filed by citizens Al Baldasaro, Sean O’Keefe and Brian Farmer against the Londonderry School District and School Moderator.
The three residents allege the district’s quorum requirement for the school’s deliberative
 session, is not authorized under state law and a court decision is expected before the Feb. 11 deliberative session.
Hendricks, a former Rindge resident who moved to Londonderry in 2006, served on her local school board for five and a half years before coming to

She further noted that Londonderry’s quality school district was a huge factor in her family’s decision to move here. “So right now, I’d rather see the focus on other things: academics and curriculum development for starters,” she stressed. “I wish more people would understand why (the quorum) matters.” 
Last year, School Board members Steve Young and Ron Campo led the board’s charge to reduce the quorum from 500 to 350. The item was rejected by a significant majority vote last March. 
“Clearly the voters are happy with the way it is, not only the quorum but with it set at such a high number,” Young said via e-mail yesterday. 
Asked why he felt certain voters in town appeared content with the current quorum, Young responded: “It’s simple. They like the school district the way it is, at least the majority do. That is what the vote just last year indicated to me.” 
Young estimated that “no more than five people have visited, called or e-mailed to complain in years” in regards to the district’s existing quorum. 
“(Residents) do like the way things are. The only time people will attend School Board meetings or contact us is when they are not happy,” he added. “I have had more people concerned with the (district’s proposed budget and staffing) cuts approach me this year than ever have before about any other issue. They are comforted that we will be providing the same level of services and the staff will be working harder and smarter to achieve that goal.” 
Should the court favor the quorum’s elimination this year, Young warned the end result could potentially be “the largest tax increase in Londonderry” since smaller groups with vested interests could, in theory, vote in favor of the most extreme budget cutbacks, leading local parents to vote on the higher end at the March polls, in hopes of saving programs and services. 
District moderator and local attorney John Michels noted the quorum has a long history in Londonderry. 
“Prior to our current charter, we governed under SB2 for two years,” Michels said yesterday. “Around 120 residents showed up each of those years. But before then, our attendance was over 500. With SB2, our attendance just dove through the basement. Those who did show up seemed to show a vested interest.” 
When the district’s charter commission was formed in the late 1990s, Michels said a main concern was “preventing the meeting from being hijacked by a very small number of people.” 
“The charter commission came up with the idea of a quorum to prevent this from happening,” Michels said. “And when the quorum came before our council, they believed it was legal and no one objected.” 
The school district’s quorum has been in place since the charter was approved at the March 2000 polls. 
According to court documents submitted by the school district’s representing attorney Gordon Graham earlier this week, the district’s current quorum is not inconsistent with general laws, and “in fact, a myriad of general laws prohibit voters present at a deliberative session of an annual meeting from amending warrant articles, and only allow a yes or no vote.” 
Michels further noted that each time changes were made to the school district’s governing method, those changes were submitted to the Attorney General’s Office. 
“We never, ever heard anything back telling us it wasn’t correct,” Michels said. 

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