School study will explore collaboration across state lines

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CLARKSBURG — Two small towns are exploring uncharted territory across state lines and now there is money to help write the map.


With the help of $25,000 from the state, Clarksburg will forge ahead with a feasibility study to weigh the potential benefits and pitfalls of sharing elementary educational services with Stamford, Vt. 

It's a tall order. 

"We'd have to match our systems, operations, contracts, expectations [in a way] that is going to be acceptable to both communities as well as both state governments," said Clarksburg Town Administrator Carl McKinney. 

The study is funded with money that was secured by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi in the state budget prior to her death last year. The funds were initially held by Gov. Charlie Baker but released last month. 

Local officials will be in Montpelier, Vt., on Wednesday to meet with state officials and advocate for Vermont to help fund the effort, according to Jonathan Lev, superintendent of the North Berkshire School Union, of which Clarksburg is a member. 

The entire process is new to Clarksburg officials. 

"The logistics of this agreement is something that I certainly don't have any expertise in and that's why we need these consultants," Lev said. 

Though the regional agreement would be the first of its kind in Massachusetts, Vermont has allowed interstate collaborations with New Hampshire. 

"[State law] makes no provision for establishing a regional district of towns from different states," noted Jacqueline Reis, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.     

The two towns' elementary schools are separated by just a few miles along Route 8. 

Act 46 in Vermont is putting pressure on Vermont schools to share services.

But for Stamford, a relatively isolated town, there are few easy options for in-state collaborations. Town voters rejected a proposed merger with Readsboro, Vt., Halifax, Vt., and the Twin Valley district (Wilmington and Whitingham) last year. 

Lev noted that most Stamford students already pay tuition and attend high schools in the Northern Berkshires. 

"Their economy and jobs are really all tied to North Berkshire," McKinney said. "It makes a good deal of sense."

First Berkshire District state Rep. John Barrett became involved in the process when it appeared Cariddi's money might not be released, helping to explore other avenues for funding before Baker ultimately released the funding in the budget. 

"They have to have a very thorough study on this because it's never been done in Massachusetts," Barrett said. 

The potential costs and how educational standards are met will have to be addressed by the study for town voters, according to Barrett. 

"They have to know what they're voting on," he said. 

From Clarksburg's perspective, the town is looking to see increased economies of scale while improving its education, McKinney said. 

There is no set timeline on the discussions, but McKinney said "I don't expect it to happen overnight."

"It is moving ahead and I think we both feel pretty good. If, in the end, both states are feeling this is a good plan and the agreement — it will be interesting to see what the agreement will end up looking like," Lev said. 

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-496-6376


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