With a photo of schoolchildren projected on the auditorium screen at Berlin High School, parents and teachers spoke Thursday, Sept. 6 about what they love about their schools and called for the Board of Education to properly fund them.
These calls came after the presentation of a draft of the Strategic Planning Study commissioned by the BOE to find cost savings in the school system.
With cuts already made at the high school and middle school level, the BOE is looking to squeeze out more savings without increasing class sizes.
“We just need to be brave enough to spend the money to take care of the kids the right way,” said Danielle Morisse-Corsetti, PTA president at Hubbard Elementary School.
The study outlined six plans ranging from continuing the current approach of base funding the schools while making repairs as needed, to more extreme measures like closing Hubbard Elementary School, which has seen declining enrollment for years.
East Berlin resident Jessica Silva is opposed to the latter idea, and told a story about the Hubbard principal visiting her son when he was recovering from an illness.
"Where else, besides Hubbard or a small neighborhood school, would a principal come to the student's house and sit down on a floor with him? In a bigger school, Jonathan would have been lost, his story would have been unheard and nobody would have come to visit,” Silva said.
Said Board of Education Chairperson Matthew Tencza: "We commissioned this study not with the intent to close Hubbard. It was for us to have our due diligence, to make appropriate decisions based on the continued reduction to budget requests. We know that some of them don't make sense, wouldn't make sense for the community, they don't make sense for the students and we're not going to make those decisions.”
The study outlined some areas where operational savings could be found by upgrading some systems, redistricting to reduce the load on Griswold Elementary School and a more proactive approach to making repairs to avoid bonding.
However, the proposals with the greatest savings included staffing reductions.
The first four plans (A, B, C and D) see varying degrees of funding for maintaining the schools as they are or renovating them, while the final two (E and F) include closing Hubbard.
■A. Base fund the schools and conduct regular maintenance on an annual basis, with repairs made when they are needed.
■B. Similar funding and maintenance, but with funding for emergency repairs budgeted ahead of time to avoid bonding.
■C. Specific renovations to the schools to improve learning and reduce the need for future repairs, with potential maintenance savings down the road.
■D. More extensive renovations, with the demolition of expensive-to-run temporary classrooms at Griswold school and broad, multi-year upgrades.
■E. Close Hubbard school and renovate or expand Griswold and Willard to accommodate around 600 students each.
■F. The most expensive option upfront, with the closure of all the elementary schools and the construction of two new ones. Two more-efficient schools could be cheaper to run annually than three under-capacity buildings
While he said he can’t support any of the options until the study is finished in full, Tencza emphasized that he “was never an advocate of closing a building” and that small class sizes are one of the most important factors in a quality education.
Arthur Wagman led the demographics portion of the study.
"The satisfaction rate with the Berlin schools is very high. People like their schools,” he said. “So the question is why aren't they coming into town. Either they can't afford to live here, or they don't find suitable accommodations.”