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October 25. 2012 12:28AM

Pittsburg survey says residents receptive to linking districts


Education consultant Wayne Gersen listens to a comment during his presentation of survey results on the consolidation of New Hampshire’s SAU 7 and Vermont’s Essex North Supervisory Union at a public meeting. (KRISTI GAROFALO/Union Leader Correspondent)

PITTSBURG — A recent survey shows that residents have mixed feelings about consolidating New Hampshire SAU 7 with Essex North Supervisory Union in Vermont, but are open to more information.

Education consultant Wayne Gersen of Etna presented the survey results to the Governance Study Steering Committee (GSSC) and about 20 members of the public at a meeting Oct. 23 at Pittsburg school.

Declining enrollments, rising costs and a desire for more student opportunities led superintendents Bob Mills of SAU 7 and Chris Masson of ENSU to begin exploring the consolidation idea.

The GSSC of representatives from the 10 involved school boards has been working on the four-phase study for the past year. The survey is phase three.

A total of 378 residents of the two school districts responded either online or in writing. Gersen said the number of respondents in each town closely approximated the number of students enrolled in that town’s school.

The GSSC-suggested middle school consolidation plan was outlined in survey questions. Twenty-six percent of respondents supported the plan, and 22 percent were open to the idea but wanted more information.

Thirty-six percent opposed the idea and another nearly 15 percent were somewhat opposed, making a nearly “fifty-fifty split”, Gersen said.

The question of whether to consolidate Pittsburg and Canaan high schools got a more definite answer: two-thirds supported the idea or were open to more information. Pittsburg residents expressed the highest opposition at 38 percent.

Survey results also listed the most important priority of a consolidated school district as improving the success of high school graduates.

The least important priorities were reducing costs and improving buildings, but on a different question, 84 percent said containing costs was very important or important.

The most prevalent response to whether to continue the study was respondents were open to the idea but wanted more information.

“The game plan for going forward would be for you all to put your heads together independently at the board level,” Gersen told the GSSC. “Then the superintendents are going to ultimately talk to each other about whether or not this consolidation idea has traction.”

Gersen gave three recommendations. The first was to hold public meetings on whether to form an Interstate School District Planning Committee.

He also recommended the two districts consider sharing staff and services to increase student opportunities, and begin addressing the need for high school facilities upgrades.

Public comments asked for clarification of survey data and about the possibility of the plan going forward if some of the towns didn’t want to buy into the idea, but no opposition was raised.

SAU 7 Superintendent Bob Mills said the school boards will examine the results in depth over the next few months, but public meetings won’t be planned until after the holidays.

As the process moves forward, Mills said he and Masson will continue to discuss ways to work together.

“Whenever we can we’re sharing staff now so maybe we’ll be taking little steps while we’re looking at big steps,” Mills said. “Sometimes you have to try the engagement before you try the marriage.”

Copies of Gersen’s report are available in the schools and online at the school websites.

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Kristi Garofalo may be reached at kgarofalo@newstote.com.


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