Letter: Keep Pure Democracy in Cornish

To the Editor:

Cornish has long prided itself on its New England spirit, which is in evidence every March at the school district meeting and Town Meeting. Over the years, residents have gathered to discuss, debate and vote on the school and town budgets, along with any number of other issues. The five or so hours on the same Saturday and Tuesday in March have produced many moments when responsible, creative and generous citizens have shared information and ideas that have solved problems in the best interests of the school and town.

A warrant article by petition on this year’s ballot asks residents to consider adopting SB2 for Cornish, thus changing the tradition of a school district meeting on the first Saturday after the first Tuesday in March in favor of a deliberative session in either January or February and all-day voting with no discussion three weeks later.

The petitioners argue that a deliberative session is just the same as a school district meeting. We would disagree. Claremont’s deliberative session this year garnered 20 voters — many fewer than the 200 to 300 who attend a School District Meeting in Cornish. Data from towns that have SB2 show a marked reduction in deliberative meeting attendance thus reducing the quality of the debate. Why would we want to go with a system that appears to limit rather than encourage voters being more informed?

A deliberative session is not a school district meeting where discussion, debate and voting occur on the same day when the exchange of information is fresh in everyone’s mind. It is not a social gathering place that school and Town Meetings have become in small New England towns.

Cornish has crucial, critical issues facing it having to do with decreased school populations and increased costs per pupil. We are not alone in the Upper Valley in dealing with our issues. The future is uncertain, but our resolve to continue our tradition of collaboratively creating the best solutions must remain. We need to continue the school district meeting format, the purest form of direct participatory democracy, where thoughtful, careful deliberation and discussion of the future direction of our school and informed voting can take place.

Susan Chandler