Costs are rising in Berkshire school systems, enrollment is declining, and a sluggish economy and demographic statistics suggest this pattern will continue. Change in the way school districts operate is coming, and the best way to address change is to get out in front of it. That is what six Berkshire school districts have an opportunity to do through the Southern Berkshire Shared Services Project.
The project offers both short-term and long-term ways in which districts could reduce costs by sharing services. Curriculum coordination, data specialist and grant writer are among the short-term proposals, and in the case of the latter, the larger student populations the grant writer serves could make it easier to shake loose grant funds for educational programs. In the long run, positions like special education director, business manager and superintendent could be filled across district lines. Currently, Lee and Lenox have interim superintendents as they explore other options, including a possible shared superintendency with one or more school systems.
The planned collaborative grew out of discussions between Lee and Lenox officials facilitated by state Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat who represents South Berkshire County. Mr. Pignatelli observed in Monday’s Eagle that this is "not about the ‘R’ word, regionalization," and indeed regionalization sets off alarms in the county even though there are examples here of successful regionalization.
If all six districts sign a memorandum of agreement, and ideally they will, the project will apply for a Community Innovation Challenge grant to pursue sharing services and programs throughout the districts. In a communication with Mr. Pignatelli, David Bunker, the CFO of the state executive office of education, said this effort, should the six districts join, "will likely prove a model and template for the whole state." Rather than wait for the state to come up with a solution for educational realities in Berkshire County that may not sit well with parents, teachers and students, it is better for the Berkshires to take the initiative itself.