SHEFFIELD — The Southern Berkshire Regional School District appears to have closed the door on prospects for merging Mount Everett and Monument Mountain regional high schools.

In a July 18 letter to the neighboring Berkshire Hills Regional School District, Southern Berkshire School Committee Chairwoman Jane Burke said any formal steps toward combining the schools would be "premature."

That landed with a thud on Thursday night with Berkshire Hills officials, who had been pressing to open talks about the possibility of consolidating the schools.

"It kind of kills the deal," said School Committee member Richard Dohoney. "I don't know where we go with them voting no."

The letter came in response to a June 7 request by Berkshire Hills to open formal talks about merging the schools. Berkshire Hills officials had asked that Southern Berkshire and all member towns of both districts respond to their request by July 31. They are still waiting for responses from three towns, and won't take further action until then.

Several towns across both districts already had expressed support for opening talks, but the letter from Burke was tepid at best.

"We propose it would be wise to begin with a conversation about our common goals and vision including how regionalization might impact the education of students and the residents of our towns," she wrote.

Talk of consolidation resurfaced recently as Berkshire Hills began planning to renovate or rebuild the 51-year-old Monument. A similar plan was scrapped by Great Barrington voters two years in a row beginning in 2013.

Citing projected countywide population and student enrollment dips, as well as property tax hikes, residents of the district have said that a merger with the neighboring high school would bring more state aid under one roof, improve educational offerings and offset costs to taxpayers.

But consolidation can also come with a dose of resistance from communities that have grown attached to hometown schools.

Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee Chairman Stephen Bannon said that in his 22 years on the committee, talks with Southern Berkshire have never really gotten anywhere.

"We've had informal conversations, on and off every few years, the whole time I've been there," he said.

And at Thursday's meeting he said he would write Southern Berkshire officials, asking that they "reconsider," since most of the district's member towns support the effort.

"If they say no, then we ask them to bring it to voters in town meeting," Bannon added.

Burke's letter came after a flurry of responses this month from officials from the Southern Berkshire towns of New Marlborough, Alford, Monterey and Egremont. All responded that official merger talks are welcome. Alford officials went a step further, suggesting that a merger not be limited to high schools. New Marlborough officials took it up another notch, urging school officials to swiftly "discuss how to consolidate both districts, not whether there should be consolidation."

Stockbridge has also signaled support for planning talks; Great Barrington, West Stockbridge and Sheffield have not yet weighed in. The Great Barrington Select Board has placed the matter on its Aug. 12 agenda.

Southern Berkshire's School Committee wants a "more informal process" before official talks might ensue.

In her letter, Burke said the committee envisioned an initial meeting of representatives from both school committees.

"The goal of this structured, yet informal meeting would be to gain better understanding to inform us about the possible paths forward," Burke wrote.

Bannon suggested that the towns and the School Committee are not aligned.

"It's interesting because obviously the towns of [that district] seemed to want to move forward," Bannon said. "The School Committee seems to not have the same desires."

Bannon noted the idea for merger talks were based on a need for Berkshire Hills to explore possibilities, and make them "more realistic," and not to "force anyone to do what in the end is bad for the students."

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