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GRS Cooperative Study Committee questions its role, may ask Berlin to join the study


March 05, 2014
At last year's annual meetings, three school districts, the GRS Cooperative (Gorham, Randolph and Shelburne), Milan and Dummer voted to form a committee to study whether or not Milan and Dummer should join the GRS Cooperative towns to form a new cooperative school district.

The committee has met at least once a month since then and has been gathering information. Of particular concern has been the cost and distance information to get students to Gorham, and budgetary information - what the budget might look like and how it would affect the tax rates.

But at recent meetings members have struggled with the broader issue of what exactly is the committee's role and how far should they go in planning before presenting the issue to their districts for a vote. Should the committee go as far as developing articles of agreement or just present the information they've been collecting. The issue of possibly disbanding the committee altogether was also raised, but members decided to continue. Had they decided to stop, an article would have had to go on the warrants of each district to disband the committee.

The committee sought a legal opinion on its status, is it a board or a committee, and what should it be doing, how far should it plan.

The legal opinion that came back said the member representatives from each district formed a committee. These committees came together to form a board, a planning board, Business Administrator Pauline Plourde said.

As to its job, that seems fairly wide open. At the January 30 meeting, the board voted to study only the feasibility of forming a new cooperative, but that vote was not unanimous. Five members voted yes, one no and two abstained.

There is an interim report in the annual reports for each school district. The committee is hoping to have its work completed by the 2015 school district meeting.

Regarding the two main issues, transportation and the budget, the board has discovered both good and bad news.

On the positive side, preliminary figure reviewed the board in October showed all but one town, Dummer, could see decreases in their tax rates. Plourde cautioned that night that the information presented was just a snapshot of what the budget might look like if the cooperative was in existence today. She said the information she was presenting that night was not as detailed as it would be if the recommendation was to go forward to form a cooperative and there were still some figures that needed to be pinned down.

Plourde walked through the changes she made with the board, such as a decrease in tuition costs as Milan and Dummer would no longer be sending students to Berlin, and increases, such as putting Milan teachers on the same pay scale as in Gorham.

Taking all that into consideration, calculations led to some very rough estimates. Randolph and Shelburne could decrease 55 and 60 cents respectively, Gorham by $2 and Milan by $4.85. Dummer would increase by 19 cents.

The board met with David Goyette, in charge of transportation for the GRS Cooperative, and Mike Fortier, who provides transportation for Milan and Dummer in November. Fortier reported it would take an extra 25 minutes round trip, in good weather, to transport students to Gorham. The board was concerned about how that would affect the school day, presently in sync with Berlin, as well as the extra time students at the far end of the route would be on the bus. The additional cost for the longer travel time was estimated at $46,332 per year.

The board is expected to meet again at a date yet to be finalized after town and school meetings are completed. There are still a number of issues to be looked at, including the grandfathering of students already in Berlin schools who want to stay there for graduation.

Members of the committee have also expresses interest in inviting Berlin to participate in the cooperative study. They have asked the superintendent's office to look into the legal issues surrounding that. In the past the Berlin mayor and council have stated they would not be interested in changing the governing structure regarding the Berlin schools.

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