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Ludlow withdrawal plans hit snag

By Joseph Cyr
Staff Writer

    LUDLOW — A plan to withdraw from SAD 70 has hit a snag for Ludlow residents after a discrepancy was found in the petition submitted to the state.
    Town Manager Diane Hines said Thursday that the town was notified Wednesday afternoon by the state Education Department that the petition Ludlow submitted to first put the measure onto a ballot did not contain the required number of signatures.
    To initiate a withdrawal process, a petition bearing the signatures of at least 10 percent of registered voters from the last gubernatorial election must be submitted. Ludlow submitted a petition bearing the names of 13 residents asking for the process to move ahead, which was 10 percent of those who voted in the last regular election in 2011. A total of 101 residents voted last November.
    The last gubernatorial election, however, occurred in 2010 with 157 residents castings ballots. Therefore, the petition submitted to the state needed to have at least 16 signatures, three more than what was submitted.
    Even though Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen sent a letter to the town given his consent for the withdrawal to move forward, the entire process must begin anew because of the discrepancy, Hines said.
    Residents of Ludlow first gave the go-ahead to start the withdrawal process by a referendum vote of 67-36 on March 29. A public hearing on the matter was also held March 19, with SAD 29 Superintendent Mike Hammer attending. SAD 70 Superintendent Bob McDaniel was unable to attend due to another board meeting.
    At that meeting, those initiating the petition expressed a desire to see the town withdraw from SAD 70 and join SAD 29. It was believed the town could achieve a cost savings by switching school districts, but hard numbers for what that actual savings would be have been difficult to pinpoint because any withdrawal would not happen until the 2013-14 school year at the earliest. School districts do not have solid figures for what their costs will be that far in advance.
    Others expressed it was a personal preference to send their children to SAD 29 because, logistically, the school is closer. Still others said it was for educational reasons.
    The SAD 70 school board held a community meeting April 25, well after the withdrawal vote, to hear concerns. Many of those who attended that meeting in Hodgdon wanted their children to remain in the SAD 70 system.
    Hines said aside from the lesson learned of double-checking information before sending it to the state, there was a positive to take from the mishap.
    “The good thing is, if people truly are not happy and do not want to go forward with withdrawing, this will clear it all up,” she said. “It’s unfortunate we have to start all over, but this time we can have a public hearing, hopefully with both superintendents in attendance. And we will have more information for the residents.”
    If another petition was circulated, and successful in gathering the 16 signatures needed, another public hearing would have to be held, followed by another referendum vote in order to start the process over again.
    Hines said she believes the discrepancy was brought to the attention of the Board of Education by a group of Ludlow residents who are opposed to the consolidation process. She also admitted the blame falls on her shoulders for not checking the requirements more carefully.
    “I went to the wrong election numbers, so it was my fault,” Hines said.
    As of Tuesday afternoon, she was unaware of any new petition being circulated, because she had not had an opportunity to notify those who asked for the petition the first time. She also cleared up a misconception going around the town.
    “Dave Stevens (Ludlow’s representative on the SAD 70 school board) didn’t make up that petition,” Hines said. “The voice of the people asked for the petition and the truth is, I made it up for them. Anyone can ask for or make a petition.”
    For more information, call the town office at 532-7743.

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