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Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky questions then-Education Commissioner nominee Frank Edelblut, at a public hearing on Jan. 31, 2017

Mar 16, 2017 2:51 PM

Volinsky says he'll put Edelblut Croydon contribution in spotlight next week

NH1.COM

CONCORD – New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s anonymous $1,000 contribution to support a town school board’s legal fight against the department he now heads should be front and center at next week’s Executive Council meeting.

That’s when the five member council is expected to debate and vote on confirming Edelblut for a full four-year term as commissioner.

Edelblut, a businessman and former state representative who grabbed lots of grassroots conservative support in narrowly losing to now-Gov. Chris Sununu in last summer’s GOP gubernatorial primary, was confirmed along party lines by GOP dominated council in early February. That 3-2 vote was confirmation for Edelblut to complete the last two months of then-commissioner Virginia Barry’s term. She left office at the end of January, but her term didn’t expire until the end of March.

Last week Edelblut declined to respond to numerous questions from the Valley News whether he was an unnamed donor to the Croydon School Board’s legal defense fund. But on Wednesday the commissioner disclosed the contribution to reporters. Edelblut released an email question he received from Democratic executive councilor Andru Volinsky, and his response to all five councilors.

“The contribution was made anonymously,” Edelblut wrote in the email. “I prefer the focus to stay on the cause and not draw attention to myself.”

Edelblut, who was nominated by Sununu early in January, was never asked about, and never mentioned, the contribution during his eight-hour confirmation hearing later that month. The hearing turned contentious, with the nominee facing sharp questioning from Volinsky and Chris Pappas, the other Democrat on the council. Edelblut’s support for school choice, his qualification s for the job, and his stances on social issues, all came under the microscope.

Volinsky told NH1 News on Thursday that he will bring up the matter of the contribution at next week’s council meeting.

“If you’re asking if he did anything wrong in terms of a crime, I don’t think this is a crime,” Volinsky told NH1 News. “But if you want a sense of transparency in government, which is something that is very important, you raise this.”

Volinsky said that “I was troubled by the fact that Mr. Edelblut did not respond to this request for disclosure and then reading his response, I’m equally concerned because he said the reason for anonymity was that he did not want to interfere with the cause.”

“Think about it. He was running for governor. And the private schools was part of his platform. So he was already in the middle of this, number one. And number two, he’s describing the diversion of public funds to private schools as a cause for him. That is contrary to his testimony that he was merely an implementer, and it doesn’t speak well for him being candid during his confirmation process,” the councilor added.

The conservative Republican from Wilton, who along with his wife home-schooled all seven of his children, repeatedly vowed during his confirmation public hearing not to “legislate” if confirmed. “This is a non-partisan position. This is about making sure that our kids get the education they deserve. That will be my 100% focus,” Edelblut added.

Croydon’s battle rallying point for school choice advocates

Croydon is a small down in Sullivan County (just north of Newport) which has struggled with the state Education Department and the courts over its attempt to send five local students to a nearby Montessori school using taxpayer funds.

The state won in superior court, but Croydon’s school board appealed the verdict. The case now stands before the state Supreme Court, pending the outcome of a bill that’s already passed the state Senate which would allow districts to use taxpayer money in certain cases to pay private or parochial school tuition.

The on-going case has become a rallying point for so-called school choice activists in New Hampshire and beyond. Both Edelblut and Sununu are strong supporters of the school choice movement and particularly of Croydon’s battle against the state.

The town’s school board in 2015 started a fund to finance its legal battle against the state. Using the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, Croydon’s raised more than $23,000, which much of that money coming from anonymous donors.

NHDP chair urges Edelblut to resign

The chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party is calling on Edelblut to step down.

“Commissioner Edelblut's action is a clear conflict of interest and wildly inappropriate,” Ray Buckley said in a statement on Thursday. “Edelblut, who was approved against the recommendation of the state Board of Education, should resign and not seek reappointment for a full term.”

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