Pembroke’s elementaries won’t merge next year – probably

  • The Pembroke School Board is looking at a merger of the Pembroke Hill School and the Pembroke Village School. GEOFF FORESTER

  • The Pembroke School Board is looking at a merger of the Pembroke Hill School and the Pembroke Village School. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Monday, January 22, 2018

Pembroke school officials signaled Monday they don’t believe the district should merge its two elementary schools as soon as next year. But with many in town advocating for steep cuts in the midst of this year’s budget crisis, several school board members said they wanted to keep the option on the table.

School board member Tom Serafin said he was “disappointed” a merger next year was even on the agenda.

“I think it conveyed the message that we were looking to possibly do something without the necessary due diligence,” he said.

And SAU 53 co-superintendent Patty Sherman said she’d talked to staff about potentially consolidating the two schools next year.

“The overwhelming response was that this would be very hasty,” she said.

But board Chairman Dan Driscoll responded that since the district was hit with a $1 million shortfall that unexpectedly spiked taxes, he’d spent most evenings answering emails from concerned residents.

He said he agreed that moving Pembroke Village School’s K-1 students into Pembroke Hill School next year was “going too quickly.” But he said that many wanted to go much further than the $1 million cuts the school board had suggested to make up for this year’s tax hike.

“It’s come to my attention that the cuts that we have suggested ac

cording to many folks in the community are not enough,” Driscoll said. If additional cuts materialized at the district meeting, Driscoll said, consolidating the Village school into Hill could be the district’s only “real option.”

School board members Dave Doherty and Patricia Nardone Boucher agreed, both saying the board couldn’t “box ourselves in,” by taking a merger next year completely off the table.

“If there are folks who are willing to cut … then we’ve got to look at areas that are very uncomfortable for us to look at,” Boucher said.

A packed house attended Monday’s board meeting at Pembroke Academy, mostly to speak against consolidating by the fall.

“I think it’s great for the grades to be together. I think that should be our goal. But I don’t think it should be a goal that we have not thought about,” resident and special education teacher Susan Seidner said.

Resident Andy Camidge echoed Seidner’s concerns. He also noted that several large residential developments were in the works in town, and could potentially add to the district’s enrollment. Right now, Pembroke Hill could absorb Pembroke Village’s students. But that could change if more families move in, Camidge said.

“All of a sudden there’s not room anymore. And then the taxpayers are going to be sitting at a budget meeting looking at an addition possibly sooner than we wanted to,” he said.

Pembroke facilities director Joshua Coughlin told the school board that while Pembroke Village needs more than $3.7 million in updates to comply with code and the Americans with Disabilities Act, all of the work can “probably” wait at least a year.