Southern Berkshire Regional task force may recommend elementary school closure


SHEFFIELD -- Before their seats even have a chance to get warm, six recently elected school committee members to the Southern Berkshire Regional School District will hear from a task force that could provide a recommendation to close an elementary school.

A proposal for improving the quality of education at Southern Berkshire Regional -- at a price that the local towns can afford -- is tentatively scheduled for presentation at the 10-member school committee's first meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13, according to a district representative.

The agenda has not been finalized. At the meeting, the committee will likely be choosing a chairperson, a vice chairperson, and settling on subcommittees.

In many of the district's five towns, "the schools are at the center of the community and that is a very important place where the community comes together," said Louise Yohalem, who was tasked with chairing the elementary school task force.

The possibility of closing an elementary school is part of the discussion as a cost-cutting measure.

"There are strong opinions in the communities about these strong schools," Yohalem said.

School committee vice chairman Stephen Willig said this won't be the only important decision facing the committee.

"This is going to be a very busy school committee," Willig said.

Across Massachusetts, school committees are grappling with significant state-mandated legislation: the implementation of a new education curriculum, the Common Core Curriculum; the potentially contentious matter of school employee evaluations; and discussing a fiscal 2014 budget at a time when the state faces a large deficit.

The Department of Elem-entary and Secondary Education has notified school systems it will reduce statewide school spending by $21.7 million because of lower-than-expected state revenue collections. The reduction will affect programs, such as regional transportation, transportation reimbursement for homeless children, charter school tuition reimbursement and special education.

Added to this list of items, the school committee will also have to grapple with selecting a new school district superintendent. A decision could be made in March.

Willig said that some education services have been eliminated with the closure of the South Berkshire Educational Collaborative (SBEC) and will need to be filled.

School committee chairman Herb Abelow said that another collaborative has been contracted, but the new school committee will need to decide if that's a long-term alternative.

The SBEC provided four school districts with English language education for a district with a growing ethnic community and basic adult education for those who need to make up credits.

The district is also dealing with declining enrollment and a sizable, socioeconomically disadvantaged population, Willig said.

"There are some people who think we can control [attrition], but in real terms, we cannot," Willig said. "We have to provide the best education so people do not take school of choice."


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