'Cooperation' committee formed to explore school partnerships in Southern Berkshire County
SHEFFIELD -- Southern Berkshire Regional School District has created a "cooperation" subcommittee tasked with exploring cost-saving partnerships with surrounding districts.
"Budgets are tight in every town," said Charles Flynn, a subcommittee member. "The economy is still bad and it will be bad for the foreseeable future. Each and every district has resources that can be shared. If we start talking about it, we can put a plan in place to share those resources."
A similar committee was formed about five years ago, but at the time failed in its bid to find willing partners.
This time around, Lee Public Schools, Lenox Public Schools, and Berkshire Hills Regional School District have made public comments about working with other districts to reduce their budgets.
Southern Berkshire School Committee member Dennis Sears helped form the subcommittee five years ago, and he will be on the committee again.
"Obviously, that attempt to get things started didn't work," Sears said. "I think we need to try something new and lets try that through the school committee. In the end run, [the School Committees] have the control and responsibilities to see if there are better ways to do anything."
In 2009, the districts of Berkshire Hills Regional, Southern Berkshire Regional, and Lee Public Schools contracted national consultant MGT of America Inc. to produce a report titled, "Independent Analysis for Opportunities to Consolidate."
The study has been broadly criticized as lacking sufficient detail to guide consolidation efforts; however, it provided a glimpse of potential cost savings.
The study states textbook publishers will offer varying discounts from 10 to 25 percent depending on the size of the purchase. Other potential savings could be found in professional development and a reduced number of classes offered
Consolidation would be challenging because it would require dissolving and then designing new contract agreements. The first step would be to create a steering committee with representatives from the three districts, according to the study.
Outside of consolidation, the report states school committees could draft a compact to work with one another and possibly share positions, for example, their special education director. Further, it identified cost-sharing in the purchase of gas and electricity, health insurance, and management of Medicaid reimbursements.
Southern Berkshire Regional's three-person committee is still in its infancy. The committee is still a member short and needs to establish objectives.
The subcommittee will reach out to neighboring school committees. The partnerships might include sharing advanced placement teachers or other resources, Sears speculated.
Asked about the possibility of consolidation, Sears said that would be unlikely anytime soon.
"I really think there is a lot more depth for work that needs to be done between districts on future enrollment and demographics of the county," Sears said. "I think there is a lot more work we need to understand before we can decide what makes sense in the form of [consolidation]."
Berkshire Hills Regional and Southern Berkshire Regional met earlier this year to examine areas of possible cooperation. A follow-up meeting hasn't yet been scheduled, according to Southern Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent David Hastings.
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