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Croydon voters restore school budget in a landslide

Melanie Gray Warburton and others members of We Stand Up for Croydon Students cheer as the results are announced.
Gabriela Lozada
Melanie Gray Warburton and other members of 'We Stand Up for Croydon Students' cheer as the results are announced.

Over half of Croydon’s registered voters flooded a meeting on Saturday to reverse a budget cut that many feared would spell disaster for the town’s public school system.

At issue was the local school budget, which funds a school for children through fourth grade in town and covers tuition for older students to attend private and public schools in neighboring towns. At a poorly attended annual meeting in March, voters approved a measure to cut the school budget by more than half, from $1.7 million to $800,000.

The cut would have transformed the education system in Croydon, replacing the public school system with one run by cheaper, private companies that offer individualized programs, largely online. Croydon would have become the first community in New Hampshire where two companies, Prenda and Kaipod, would have become the default education providers.

Both companies have been championed by New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who helped them secure contracts with the state of New Hampshire.

Saturday’s vote was residents’ one chance to reverse that change. They turned to a loophole in New Hampshire law that allows a school district to revisit its budget, as long as at least half of the town’s registered voters attend the redo vote and cast a ballot.

Croydon revote.jpg
Gabriela Lozada
Willis Ballou (left) and Ed Little (right) wait to count votes on May 7 at YMCA Camp Coniston

Typically, annual town and school district meetings in Croydon draw between five and ten percent of registered voters. On Saturday, nearly 60 percent of voters cast a ballot. They approved restoration of the $1.7 million budget, by a vote of 377-2.

The town allowed registration in the days prior to the meeting and on Saturday morning. Around 75 new voters were added to the town’s checklist, boosting the number of registered voters in town by 13 percent.

Many public officials and residents called it a win for democracy and a wake-up call about the importance of attending local meetings. But some residents said it diminished the imperative of showing up to the annual town meeting and debating budgets then.

“Everyone here should have been back here in March,” said Joe Marko, a selectman who supported cutting the school budget.

Hope Damon, who helped organize the revote, said it was a chance for townspeople to reverse a decision that would have had far-reaching consequences.

“I profoundly believe in life that when you make mistakes, then there should be a way to rectify it. And Croydon turned out and fixed the mistake,” she said. “That’s the way democracy is supposed to work.”

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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