State rejects possibility of Canterbury withdrawing from Shaker School District

Shaker Regional School District buses leave Belmont High School after dismissal from school on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Shaker Regional School District buses leave Belmont High School after dismissal from school on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 01-04-2024 4:06 PM

Canterbury won’t be deciding whether to withdraw from the two-town Shaker Regional School District this year, following the state Board of Education’s rejection of a request to put the issue before voters.

The five-person state board rejected the proposal, 3-2, at its Dec. 14 meeting after reading committee reports favoring and opposing the idea.

“If we had a strong majority saying yeah, we want this … it would make a difference. … But we do not have a majority enthusiastically urging us to support this,” said Board Chairman Drew Cline during the meeting.

Under state law, the state Board of Education must agree that the possibility of withdrawing from a school district is reasonable before it can be put in front of local voters at town meeting. Had the board supported the idea, the issue could have been on the warrant at Canterbury town meeting and on the warrant of the Shaker Regional School District, which covers Canterbury and Belmont.

During the state hearing, Canterbury resident Calvin Todd, a member of the Canterbury Shaker District Withdrawal Committee who helped write the majority report favoring the idea, said it was difficult to get hard data, partly because the district is so small that comparisons with other districts were inexact.

“Reaching out to get tuition costs, administrative costs – it was very difficult to negotiate that when only two towns are affected,” he said, noting that estimates of post-withdrawal costs for such things as teachers, food and administration varied by huge amounts.

Canterbury students attend the town’s elementary school through grade 5, then go to the district middle and high schools in Belmont. Belmont sends about four times as many students in the middle and high schools as Canterbury does: 940 compared to 281, according to October enrollment figures.

The majority report supporting withdrawal indicates that a variety of issues drove their decision: “Geography, extracurricular activities, Advanced Placement courses, time span of bus routes, vocational programs and assessment scores all played a part in the Committee’s vote in favor of withdrawal.”

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They recommended that Canterbury establish contracts with schools in neighboring towns where students could attend middle and high school on a tuition basis. Part of the committee’s frustration came from a shortage of response from some neighboring districts about this idea.

The committee’s minority report argued, “there are no compelling economic or educational reasons to justify Canterbury’s withdrawal from the Shaker Regional School District; it would result in a greater financial burden on Canterbury as well as Belmont residents.”

This is the third time the idea of withdrawal has received official consideration. Canterbury conducted official studies of whether to stay in the district in 1981 and again in 1993. The current study started with a petitioned warrant article in 2021. The committee was formed after a March 2023 Town Meeting gave them money to hire consultants to help issue the final report.