STOCKBRIDGE — Plans to explore the merger of two neighboring school districts have moved another step forward.

A committee working to spearhead the effort on Tuesday signed off on the draft of a letter to the chairpersons of the Southern Berkshire and Berkshire Hills Regional school committees. The letter asks the chairpersons to pursue a majority vote supporting what will ultimately be the creation of 24-member Regional School District Planning Board that will study possible consolidation.

That planning board will be formed from three-member committees from each of the eight towns comprising the two districts.

Also during its meeting on Tuesday, the 8 Town School Consolidation Committee discussed an application to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for a $50,000 grant for a facilitator to help guide the communities through the complex path ahead.

After two decades of consideration, the districts about four months ago began formal talks for a potential merger. Many town and school officials believe consolidating the districts could improve education and save money amid population declines and rising costs across the districts.

Seven of the eight towns are now officially on board, and most have already created a three-member town committee, which must include one school committee member. Some towns have already appointed members.

Stockbridge remains the only town that, for logistical reasons, has not yet formed its committee, but it is expected to do so soon.

Towns in the Berkshire Hills district are: Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge. Southern Berkshire towns include Egremont, Sheffield, New Marlborough, Alford and Monterey.

Amid some bickering over procedure, Chairwoman Nadine Hawver, reinforced the mission of the eight town group.

"My goal for this over these four months has been for this to be a civil meeting of like-minded people who just want to find the best way to educate the children in these eight towns," she said. "We want to save money if we can."

Ed Abrahams, vice chairman of Great Barrington's Select Board, said later that he is hopeful.

"The fact that eight towns have gotten together with minimal dust-ups is encouraging," he said. "The hard stuff is ahead, but we made it this far."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.