Our Opinion: Encouraging steps on regionalization

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After a stumbling start in July that appeared to reflect lingering suspicions among South Berkshire towns, the movement toward a merger between the Berkshire Hills Regional School District and the Southern Berkshire Regional School District has built genuine momentum. There could be further stumbles ahead, but that forward momentum must continue for the betterment of all concerned.

The School Committees from both districts have agreed that two panels will be created to explore various aspects of the merger with members to come from both boards. The first meetings could come as early as the middle of this month ("South County school merger talks gain steam," Eagle, August 27.)

Talks about a merger of districts have occurred in the past but went nowhere, undermined by suspicions among communities with a great deal in common and disagreement over the genuine need for a merger. The issue of need, however, has largely evaporated in the face of harsh realities.

The two districts and their member towns face declining student enrollments, aging populations and rising education costs. A consolidated district could pool resources to address these problems and benefit students with additional courses and extracurricular activities that one district cannot afford. Both Mount Everett Regional High School and Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington are below capacity, and the BHRSD is preparing for the third time to ask voters to renovate the current high school or build a new one.

This process is, as BHRSD Supt. Peter Dillon described it, "complicated stuff." As the process goes forward, complications will inevitably emerge and various solutions will emerge, some with more merit than others. But as Rene Wood, chairwoman of the Sheffield Select Board told the Berkshire Hills School Committee, "It's a process that's long overdue." The advantages of a merger are considerable, and successful regionalization efforts elsewhere in the Berkshires have demonstrated that it can be done to the advantage of parents, students, faculty and taxpayers.

The term "historic" was used a couple of times by BHRSD members in reference to the joint decision of the school boards to explore a merger and that description is accurate given the difficulty just getting to this point in the past. There is reason to hope that more history will be made going forward.

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