BERLIN — The city’s last public, neighborhood elementary school will close at the end of the school year, the victim of declining enrollment and the continued drop in state educational aid.
Barring any make-up snow days, the Brown Elementary School, which is named after the Brown family, whose paper-manufacturing business kept Berlin’s economy humming for more than a century, and is sited on land donated by the Browns, will ring its last dismissal bell on June 12.
On Jan. 17, the Berlin School Board voted 3-1 to close the school, which currently has 256 students in grades K-3, according to Corinne Cascadden, the superintendent of School Administrative Unit 3.
“It’s a very emotional thing” Cascadden said, adding that “It’s an icon in the community.”
Despite that status, the Brown School has been in trouble for a while, said Cascadden, who before becoming superintendent a decade ago, had been its principal for 23 years.
During the last 10 of those years, she was also principal of the Bartlett and Marston elementary schools in Berlin, both of which shut their doors for good in 2009.
As for the Brown School, “We knew that if the education funding was not revisited that we would not be able to sustain our programs in our current structure,” said Cascadden. “We’ve known that we were losing enrollment over the last 10 years and we’ve reduced staff but you can only decrease a budget so much to still be a New Hampshire-approved school.”
Had enrollment been the only challenge facing the Brown School, Cascadden said the school board might have entertained a closure conversation in three to five years, but the fact that Berlin has not received “stabilization” grants from the state since 2016, moved that date up considerably.
Since 2016, Berlin has lost a cumulative $879,295 in aid and therefore closing the Brown School, while difficult, “was the only choice the school board had,” she said.
The closure is expected to save the school district about $300,000 annually. It will entail converting the existing Hillside elementary/middle schools, which are connected by a gymnasium and have students in grades 3-5 and 6-8, respectively, into a pre-kindergarten to fifth grade school.
Berlin High School will become a junior/senior high school with students in grades 6-12.
The school board has been planning the closing of the Brown School for a while, said Cascadden, and therefore chose not to fill a number of vacancies that were created there after the 2017-2018 school year because “We didn’t want to hire somebody to lay them off.”
Cascadden said all of the Brown School’s 11 teachers and 14 other employees will keep their jobs, although “they might be different jobs” within the school district.
As to the fate of the school building itself, that is presently not known, she said, and will ultimately be determined by its owner, the City of Berlin.
It’s also unknown how, or if, the last day of the Brown School will be observed.
“When we closed the other schools (Bartlett and Marston), we took all the kids to Story Land. There will be a celebration of some sort, but I don’t know what the teachers will do,” said Cascadden. “It’s up to them how they want to bring the closure because teachers are married to their schools. It’s their second home and they are a family.”