In pitch to committee to keep school open, Monterey offers to maintain building
MONTEREY — Residents of Monterey are not ready to say goodbye to the kindergarten program that has been on hiatus since 2015.
At a town discussion Tuesday night, about a dozen Monterey residents, most of whom are raising or have raised children in the rural community, expressed concerns about what they see as South Berkshire Regional School District School Committee's efforts to close small schools and move children in those towns to the district's main campus in Sheffield.
After the nearly two hour meeting, the Select Board voted 2 to 1 Wednesday morning to draft a letter to the School Committee asking it to take the vote to decommission the building off the table until the town figures out its next step, according to Select Board Chairman Steven Weisz.
"What we're offering the (committee), if they're willing to take the vote off the table, the town would consider taking over maintaining the building," Weisz said, which would include heating the building and keeping the grass mowed.
Since the school went into hiatus three years ago, the school district has been paying to heat the building, but the town's children have been divided up to schools in surrounding towns, with some kindergartners commuting by bus to the New Marlborough Central School.
"My grandson gets on the bus at 6:45 (a.m.) and gets home at 3 in the afternoon," School Committee member Maryellen Brown, who feels strongly about keeping the kindergarten program local, said Tuesday night. "If we came up with a building, an acceptable building, the school district would be convinced to put in the program. A program in Monterey should not be dependent on that structure."
The Monterey School, a one-room schoolhouse, which has no parking, does have structural issues and lead contamination that would require hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to bring back the children, members of the Select Board said Tuesday.
And even then, there is a question whether there will be enough students to populate it, Select Board member Carol Lewis Edelman said.
The Southern Berkshire Regional School District committee is having public hearings on March 20 and 28 to discuss the proposed closure. Last month, that committee voted in favor of pursuing closure of both South Egremont Village School and the Monterey School. The South Egremont School has been on hiatus this school year but there are plans in place for it to resume classes this fall.
Monterey residents floated several suggestions around about how to keep the kindergarten program local, even if that means giving up the schoolhouse that holds a sentimental attachment for some.
Several parents of young children were adamant that if Monterey hosted a kindergarten program in an appropriate building, not only would town children attend the school, but parents from surrounding towns, who value small class sizes, would elect to send their children there through school choice.
Tika Snyder, who has two children in elementary school, said that it is unhealthy for 3- and 4 year-olds to be commuting up to two hours a day. If the kindergartners were able to be schooled locally, it would give them another year before they have to take the bus.
"The building isn't it. It's programmatic," Select Board member Kenneth Basler said Tuesday. "I feel that we need to make the decision to not keep the building, but not to lose the ability to have something programatically here."
Select Board Chairman Weisz said he's concerned that if they give up the building with the hope of one day having a local program, it will never happen, referring to the schoolhouse as a "wedge in the door."
"There's just the slightest glimmer of hope that there will be a program in Monterey," he said. "It's almost leverage."
Members of the Select Board said it will be a lot of work and time in order to truly determine whether a local program would be sustainable and to assess how many parents from South County would enroll their children in Monterey if a program was available.
Amanda Chmielinski, of Main Road, said that one of the biggest reasons she moved to the town was for the possibility of enrolling her children in the school. While she works full time, she said she'd be willing to put in some work to determine how many parents are interested in a local program.
"That's the question were asking," Weisz said. "If we build it, will they come?"
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twiter and 413-770-6977.
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