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Sandisfield sets stage to withdraw from the two-town Farmington River Regional School District

Farmington River School

An amendment to the Farmington River Regional School District is on the agenda Feb. 6.

Sandisfield is setting the stage to withdraw from the Farmington River School District, partly in response to a perceived power imbalance between Otis and Sandisfield.

The move would dissolve the two-town school district.

Otis, the larger and wealthier town in the district, holds four of the seven seats on the regional school committee and pays for about 58 percent of the district’s expenses. Sandisfield pays for about 42 percent.

Otis has 136 students in the Farmington River Regional School District; Sandisfield has 100, for a total of 236 students, in all grades.

The district oversees the Farmington River Regional School, a 124-student school for kindergarten through sixth graders and pays tuition for students to attend schools in grades seven through 12.

After two consecutive Sandisfield town meeting votes to amend the district agreement, the regional School Committee will take up the matter at its Feb. 6 meeting. 

The measure would set terms by which Sandisfield might withdraw from the district.

Robert Putnam, interim superintendent and principal, said he has placed on the Feb. 6 agenda the formation of a regional district amendment committee. He said that committee is likely to take up Sandisfield’s Nov. 17 town meeting vote concerning Sandisfield's withdrawal from the district.

At its annual town meeting May 14, Sandisfield residents unanimously agreed to add language to the 1992 regional district agreement as follows: “All motions on Committee business shall be decided by a majority vote of the quorum in attendance, unless otherwise required by law, provided that at least one Committee member from each town votes on the prevailing side of any such motion. This should apply to setting the agendas for future meetings as well."

This would give Sandisfield veto power in cases where the vote is split down town lines.

Putnam explained the next steps, should Sandisfield decide to withdraw.

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"The district would be dissolved if Sandisfield were to withdraw ... this is unique to two-town districts, because any district with three or more can just continue on if a town withdraws," Putnam wrote in an email to The Eagle. "Sandisfield and Otis would then have to draw up a comprehensive plan for the education of all school-age children residing in the town."

If Sandisfield successfully withdraws, it could opt for a tuition-based educational model, it could build a school or it could join the Southern Berkshire Regional School District or the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

Past issues

The imbalance of power and the divide between the towns of the district was demonstrated, perhaps most glaringly, in the Aug. 30 decision to allow former Superintendent/Principal Thomas Nadolny to retire — rather than to suspend him with pay, pending an investigation.

During an Aug. 9 executive session, Nadolny said that an Aug. 1 public meeting and coverage and publicity “had ruined his professional reputation and his standing in the community. He said he would not be able to recover from it. He proposed a separation agreement and provided the document to the chair,” according to the minutes of that meeting, which were later made public.

During that executive session a motion was made to suspend Nadolny with pay “while a full investigation is conducted by an independent third party to determine if there are adequate legal grounds for termination, and if there are to terminate for cause.”

School Committee members Amanda Leavenworth, Carl Nett and Roger Kohler, all from Sandisfield, voted in favor of seeking an investigation. Otis members Jess Drenga, Arlene Tolopko, Deb Fogel and Carol Lombardo voted against. The motion failed.

Leavenworth and Drenga have both since resigned. Leavenworth is being replaced by Sandisfield Selectman Alex Bowman. Drenga has been replaced by Phil Magovern.

On Aug. 30, the school committee agreed to terms of a separation agreement Nadolny proposed, which included pay through June 30, 2023, unused sick and vacation time in a package totaling $148,950.73.

No investigation was undertaken.

Putnam was hired Sept. 5 and Laurie Flowers is the administrator on duty, essentially acting as principal.

Jane Kaufman is Community Voices Editor at The Berkshire Eagle. She can be reached at jkaufman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6125.

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