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School board continues to discuss reorganization of grades

January 17, 2019

BERLIN — With state education stabilization grants being cut every year, the local schools of SAU 3 are struggling with maintaining the budget, staff and payroll. The school board listed options of reorganizing the grades and presented those options to the City Council last Monday. Also, a public meeting was held at the Berlin High School last Thursday for public input.

One consideration is to close Brown School elementary and move grades to either the high school, Berlin Middle School or Hillside Elementary.

Back in April, a needs assessment by the New Hampshire School Administrator Association was conducted and determined that one option in to close Brown School and reorganize grades.

After losing more than $800,000 in state education funding. SAU 3 Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden told the council that "we can't continue to operate in the same way" and "can't just wait to see what will happen but have to be prepared."

"There are some tough decisions to make and they have to be made in the mindset of enrollment decreasing and enhancing programs," Cascadden added.

Mayor Paul Grenier noted that "the effort to coordinate education in the valley has been a rouse."At the Thursday public meeting, in a slide show, it was established that student enrollment has decreased from 1278 to 1144 in the past five years. There has been a loss of 134 students and there has been a steady decline over the past 10 years.

State adequacy will drop from $10, 235, 655 (fiscal year 2016) to $9,379,460 in (fiscal year 2020) -- that's $856,195 lost in state funding.

Space at Brown School is over capacity, and space at Berlin High School is under capacity.

If Brown School were to close, there would be $400,414 in budget reductions.

There are three options being considered: The first option is to close Brown School and move grades k-2 to the high school; the second option is to move k-2 to Hillside Elementary, move grades 3-5 to the Berlin middle School to create one elementary school, and have grades 6-12 at the high school; the third option is to move k-2 to Hillside, move grades 3-6 to the middle school and 7-12 at the high school.

The board appears to be leaning towards option 3.

A list of pros and cons was presented for each option.

For option one, there would be less disruption to the current status, big buddy opportunities, more play space, no changes to transportation, first floor accessibility, less interaction between ages, collaborate CTE early Childhood with K-2, doesn't affect athletics and preservation of staff and programs.

Cons for option one is K-2 would have no windows in classrooms, less opportunity for collaboration between grades, no vertical teaming, grade disconnect, increased noise level, no special education benefits, disrupts competency model, requires more staff, administration and offices, and there would be an additional building transition.

For options two and three, some of the pros were listed as minimized school transitions, set up for potential regionalization, benefit in after school clubs, teacher prep, mentoring opportunities, shared specialists, reading resources in one place, enhanced career technical education, music lessons available in more grade levels and teacher collaboration.

Cons are listed as UA scheduling challenges, athletic conflicts at BHS, after school programs negatively affected, no dedicated athletic facility for middle school grades, social interaction transitions and altered schedules, 6-12 loss of Title 1 support, noise level increased and differing lunch menus.

Martin Lord Osman
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