GORHAM — After months of discussion and research, an 11-member team that included SAU 20 Superintendent David Backler recommended to the full Gorham-Randolph-Shelburne Cooperative School Board on Jan. 17 that it apply for an Early Childhood Special Education program setting from the N.H. Department of Education.
The effort was begun at the March 2018 annual district meeting when its citizens voted to conduct an early childhood education study.
At that time, the information gathered was expected “to lead to a well-developed document that will guide the conversation as to the possible formation of a public preschool,” according to the year-old minutes.
Backler explained during a interview on Monday, that a dedicated and diverse group of staff, parents and community members, several of whom are preschool education specialists, had determined “a creative model with which everyone could agree.” This group called its findings a “majority report,” although, in fact, there was only one report with no dissenting minority opinion, he pointed out.
“One of our overriding concerns was to figure out how we could best support the wise use of our resources,” Backler said. “We made every effort to collaborate and work together as we did our research and to use the resources we already have.”
The superintendent outlined how things would work going forward.
“Every year,” Backler said, “the special education team will meet to determine the needs of the all preschool students, ages 3 to 5,” Backler said. “If it is determined that any of these children require specialized instruction by a special education teacher, that child or those children will participate in a special education preschool program at the Edward Fenn Elementary School for one hour and 30 minutes twice week, plus one hour, 30 minutes of the regular preschool setting.
“If the child is at the Gorham Community Learning Center on Main Street, the facility will provide the transportation and the paraprofessional support to travel and work with a student or students at the Ed Fenn,“ he said. “This will help with the carryover of skills into the regular preschool program.”
“Our goal is to meet student needs — the needs of individual students,” Backler noted. “Special education is governed by federal law, and at this time, nothing had to be added to the special education budget,” he added. “There won’t be additional costs as the team determined that the best plan of action was to optimize the current resources.”
The Early Childhood Research Group, in its final sentence of its short report, noted that they had “worked diligently and are confident in our recommendations and feel that we are providing a program that is fiscally responsible and puts the needs of our children first.”
GRS employees made up more than half the participants, including Backler, Bonnie Houghton, Brooke Grondin, Alissa Judson, Mandy Roberge and Tina Binette; along with Gorham School Board member-treasurer Ben Mayerson; and preschool specialists Sue Cloutier, Melinda Beaulieau, Jen Cuna and Ann Auger.
Backler said that that the March 7 Regional School District annual meeting GRS only lasted about 20 minutes and attracted less than 40 people.
All eight warrant articles passed as printed, including an operating budget of $7,925,882; an estimated increase of $48,638 for the support staff collective bargaining agreement; $223,6000 for the food service program with $207,000 to come from grants or food service sales; $400,000 for federal and private grants; $100,000 for the building and grounds capital reserve fund, and $45,000 to be added to the bus capital reserve fund.
Backler pointed out in his introductory message to GRS voters that the budget for the 2019-20 school year reflects the hard work and efforts of an administrative staff who is committed to the high achievement of all students and the financial needs of its constituents.
He said: "This was demanding work as the team went through many drafts looking at ways we could save money while maintaining strong programs. We feel that we have struck a balance. The budget is flat and better meets the needs of our students. We hope you all see that we did everything we could to meet the goal of delivering a world-class education within the fiscal constraints of our communities.”