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Friday, February 14, 2014

Berkshire-Newbury consolidation: What do you think?

The Berkshire and Newbury school districts are discussing potential consolidation. The next step is a meeting arranged by the Ohio Board of Education Capacity Committee to hear questions and concerns of the public, planned for 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 18 in Clark Commons on the Kent State University Geauga Campus, 14111 Claridon-Troy Road in Burton Township. The Capacity Committee is chaired by state Board Vice President Tom Gunlock.

Sometime after the meeting, the state board will decide whether to place the consolidation issue on the ballot in November. At that time, voters would decide whether to approve the move.

What do you think the districts should do? Call 440-379-0858 to let us know your thoughts, which will be published as part of a Sound Off audio feature on We also may publish some comments in the print edition of The News-Herald.

Have more to say? Write a letter to the editor by emailing

Here's some more information on the most recent developments in the situation:

At a board meeting on Feb. 10, several aspects of the action that would essentially dissolve both Geauga County districts and create a new joint entity were discussed.

“The reason we’re willing to consider consolidation with Newbury — the big reason — is that educationally, they have provided a good product just like we are,” said John Manfredi, Berkshire board president.

In addition, because enrollment numbers are decreasing in both districts and lack of state funding is squeezing already-tight budgets, he said looking at linking together now is a preferred scenario than that of waiting until possible fiscal deficits arise.

Newbury has placed a levy on the ballot in the May election to help its dwindling budget.

“We need it to operate the schools, and we need it to consolidate,” Newbury Superintendent Richard Wagner said in an earlier interview. “In both cases (retaining the current district or consolidating), we have to be in the black, and we can’t be there without passing the levy.”

If the levy fails, the district will be more than $1 million in debt in fiscal year 2015.

Although fiscal deficit would not be arriving as quickly for Berkshire, Manfredi said at this point the district needs to appeal to voters for a levy passage in 2015 in order to secure funds by 2016 and thus, avoid going into debt the following year.

“Whether we consolidate or not, by 2017 we have to have money coming from someplace,” Manfredi said.

After initial talks in 2013, both districts hired a firm to compile a report on the financial feasibility of the consolidation.

“If it goes on the ballot in November, between now and then there’s a lot more we have to do and there’s a lot more information that we’ll give to the public,” Manfredi said. “If the public decides they don’t want to do it, that’s why you have a vote. But just know the taxation part isn’t going to go away.”

Read more in Jean Bonchak's story: Berkshire looks at ramifications, benefits of potential consolidation with Newbury Schools.

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