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Cornish Considers Public Comment

Cornish — Townspeople will gather Thursday night to discuss public participation at School Board meetings, including a draft policy written by a resident as an alternative to one being considered by the board.

Former town moderator Peter Burling said he wrote the policy “to try to bring people together” over the issue, which has come to the forefront lately during several contentious meetings.

“My purpose is not to pick a fight with the School Board,” Burling said. “My purpose is to try to bring people together to seek resolution of these issues about public participation, when is it appropriate, why is it appropriate, who gets to speak.”

Burling’s draft policy, which is about twice as long as the one being weighted by the School Board, shares many of the ideas of the board’s version while placing more of an emphasis on the benefits of active public participation.

For example, the School Board’s version says the board “encourages residents to attend Board meetings so that they may become acquainted with the operation and programs of the schools.”

Burling’s version says that “the success of (the school district) management effort is assured when interested members of the public are present at and participate in School Board meetings, so School Board members can hear their concerns and questions ...”

Burling acknowledged that there had been concerns among the public about the version that the board is considering.

Tensions have flared at Cornish School Board meetings in recent weeks after a section of the public called for a board member’s resignation over her Facebook comments and the board discussed elementary school grade consolidation, an important issue to parents and townspeople as the student population continues on a downward trend.

Foot-stomping and shouting dominated one such meeting in late May after the public was banned from speaking.

After the next meeting, several members of the public flagged that they were concerned about the public participation policy that the board was considering would make it harder for the public to comment at meetings.

In an email, Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin said that the School Board’s draft policy is based on language provided by the New Hampshire School Board Association.

The meeting, which is open to the public but not being conducted by an official town body, is scheduled to take place at the old Town Hall next to the fairgrounds at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Burling said he is inviting officials from SAU 6, which includes Cornish, Claremont and Unity, to the meeting.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.