By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN – Berlin Superintendent of Schools Corrine Cascadden told school board members from Milan and Dummer that Berlin has taken a huge step and created an opportunity for a discussion about regionalizing education in the valley.
Cascadden said there have been multiple studies over the years about ways to regionalize school systems but the barrier has always been the different governance systems between Berlin and the rest of the communities.
School Administrative Unit 3, covering the city of Berlin, is a dependant department of the mayor and city council, which sets its annual budget. The remaining communities in the valley have their school budgets approved by the voters at an annual meeting.
In the past, Cascadden said Berlin has not been receptive to considering an independent SAU. She said that has changed.
The city council last month passed a resolution supporting a study of the disadvantages and advantages of an independent school administrative unit. The city is also in the process of finalizing a $35,000 contract with Municipal Resources Inc., to have the consulting firm do the study, looking at the political structures of Berlin and Gorham “and other potential regional partners”. The money is coming from a grant from the Tillotson Foundation. The study is expected to be done by early February.
“That’s a huge piece for Berlin. It’s a road we’ve never gone down before,” Cascadden said.
The superintendent said the city’s willingness is fueled by a continuing loss of state education aid to communities, declining student enrollment in the valley, and a desire to maintain programs for students. She noted that an earlier survey and series of meetings found support for a regional high school.
Cascadden said Berlin and Gorham High School principals will be working with North Country Listens to host a series of forums for staff and students of two Berlin and Gorham High School to get input. Eventually, there will also be forums for parents.
SAU 20 Superintendent Paul Bousquet said his staff all have a copy of the presentation on demographics and rural realities delivered by then N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies Steve Norton to SAU 3 staff in August. He said the goal is not to cause panic but prepare for the changes predicted.
“How do we deal with the storm that’s coming,” he asked.
Milan School Board Member Peter Donovan said panic will occur if the communities do nothing.
Cascadden noted the areas hospitals have already formed a partnership and Berlin and Gorham are looking at police services.