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ConVal school board will propose consolidation plan

  • Peterborough Elementary School would be one of two pre-K through 3rd grade elementary schools under a ConVal School Board proposal for district building consolidation. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Great Brook School in Antrim, a middle school, would be one of two pre-K through 3rd grade elementary schools under a ConVal School Board proposal for district building consolidation. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • ConVal High School in Peterborough would expand from a high school to a middle high school for grades 7th through 12th under a ConVal School Board proposal for district building consolidation. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • ConVal High School in Peterborough would expand from a high school to a middle high school for grades 7th through 12th under a ConVal School Board proposal for district building consolidation. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • South Meadow School, a middle school in Peterborough, would be turned into a upper elementary school for 4th to 6th graders under a ConVal School Board proposal for district building consolidation. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Hancock Selectman John Jordan said at a ConVal School District Selectmen’s Advisory meeting at the SAU in Peterborough Thursday, Aug. 23, that Hancock officials plan to study converting Hancock Elementary School building into a charter school if the ConVal School District close the district’s elementary school in town in favor of consolidating the number of schools. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • The ConVal Selectmen’s Advisory Committee discuss the effect school building consolation would have on their town’s at an Aug. 23 meeting at the SAU in Peterborough. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Members of the ConVal School Board discuss a school building consolation plan with the ConVal Selectmen's Advisory Committee on Aug. 23. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, August 30, 2018 10:22AM

The ConVal School Board has voted to propose a consolidation of school buildings, reducing the number of the district’s school buildings from eleven to four.

In the proposed plan – that could come before voters as a warrant article in March – the district would be reorganized to include two pre-K to 3rd grade elementary schools, one upper elementary school to serve 4th grade through 6th grade and a middle/high school for 7th through 12th grade.

Three of the four schools would be located in Peterborough with the third in Antrim.

The plan includes locating the two lower elementary schools at Peterborough Elementary School and Great Brook School, a middle school in Antrim that serves the district’s northern towns. The middle school in Peterborough, South Meadow School, would serve as the upper elementary school and ConVal High School in Peterborough would become a middle/high school.

District voters have long asked for the school board to weigh in on this issue, Pierce Rigrod said at a ConVal School District Selectmen’s Advisory meeting at the SAU in Peterborough last week. Rigrod is a school board member representing the town of Hancock.

In recent years, facing declining enrollment, the school district’s annual vote has routinely included a vote on a petition article asking voters to change the articles of agreement to close elementary schools or one of the district two middle schools in order to save money.

“I think that there is a perception that if we consolidated buildings there would be cost savings,” SAU Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said Tuesday.

The school board plans to talk about how the proposed plan would be implemented at the next the board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. Then it would be presented to the public in a series of public hearings after which the board would vote to place it on the ballot or not. If placed on the ballot voters would have their say at the polls in March.

Saunders said the school board wanted a model that would address concerns that the district has underutilized school buildings, but would also be an “educationally sound” proposal.

The school board voted between two proposed models last week at its Aug. 21 meeting. Several members spoke about the plan they chose at the the ConVal School District Selectmen’s Advisory meeting at the SAU in Peterborough two days later on Aug. 23.

“I think it’s too early to get any numbers in terms of savings. I think what we are going to do is say this is the one we are going to put on the ballot,” said Bernd Foecking, a school board member from the town of Dublin. “We’re going to get an implementation plan, after that we might have an idea of cost savings … and then the school board members can vote to support it.”

He added that for him it was about providing the best education possible for children in the district, which could become difficult if school enrollment shrinks to the size of about 20 students in a town like his. Dublin currently had only 50 students enrolled in its elementary school. Temple Elementary School has the lowest enrollment in the district with 49 students.

Foecking said, it’s about not “short changing” the children educationally. “I’m not thinking about the money.”

School board member Janine Lesser of Peterborough agreed, saying while she loves her town elementary school having eight elementary schools puts a burden on how to spread out district resources.

“We have a public perception problem, people are in love with their small schools. I’m in love with my small school,” Lesser said. “The system we have now … it’s not educationally sound. … The schools that we have now, where they have so few students, it becomes difficult. … It’s not just about money, it’s about education.”

Rigrod disagreed with Lesser saying he doesn’t know of any data that says smaller elementary schools underperform academically. He added the school board did not vote in support of school consolidation, but were asked to pick between two consolidation plans so that it can be studied and possibly voted on so as to put the question to rest.

Hancock Selectman John Jordan told the board and committee members, “The Hancock Select Board voted today to establish a charter school study committee.”

He said in the case of a consolidation that closed Hancock Elementary School, Hancock officials would possibly ask to use the school for a charter school, but would not leave the district.

Saunders said it is premature to talk about what to do with possibly shuttered school buildings.

“They have every intention of letting the public make this decision,” Saunders said of the school board.

Rigrod said the school board is not advocating for closing schools, but wants to put an educationally sound model for consolidation before voters.

“We’ve talked about this for as long as I’ve been on the board,” Rigrod said. “And I voted to have this discussion. We need to have this discussion. I think this has taken a significant amount of resources from our SAU. We have been doing this for years. And beyond that we have really lost our mission because the primary job of this district is to teach kids and we spend hours of our time in committee and meetings talking about his year after year. And I know, we talked as a board to stop this and let the people have their vote. … And if it’s a ‘no’ we stop talking about this for awhile.”

“I would agree. Let’s get to the vote now,” Jordan said.

All but one of the nine towns in the school district – Sharon – have an elementary school. Antrim, Bennington, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough and Temple elementary schools educate up to the fourth grade. Dublin Consolidated school educate up to 5th grade. Currently 5th graders to 8th graders in the district are sent to either South Meadow School or Great Brook School.

Since 2006 total district enrollment has decreased by 990 students, from 3,104 to this year’s anticipated enrollment of 2,114.