Our Opinion: Mass.-Vt. school merger has great potential
Town officials in Clarksburg and Stamford, Vermont, have a challenge ahead of them as they draw up a road map to merge the two schools. Complexities aside, the effort is definitely worth making given the problems schools across much of rural New England face as costs rise and enrollment declines.
Representatives of both communities had their first work session Tuesday in anticipation of a May 15 town meeting in which recommendations will be presented to residents (Eagle, April 30). Three options are on the table, the first of which is to do nothing at all. The fact that the two communities are now considering merging strongly suggests that this option is not really an option at all. The schools could move into a single district with separate schools or make one school pre-Kindergarten through second grade and the other grades three through eight. A feasibility study was conducted with funding from both states.
Vermont, through its Act 46, is pushing schools to consolidate, while in Massachusetts, schools and school districts are acting on their own initiatives in the face of economic and enrollment realities. Besides addressing those issues, Clarksburg families could benefit from Stamford's ambitious pre-K programs while Stamford families could take advantage of the after-school day care program in Clarksburg. According to the feasibility study, a merger would increase the extra-curricular activities available to students, including foreign languages, elective programs and middle school sports. Special education programs, which are costly, would be enhanced for both schools according to the study.
The greatest challenge will be meeting the different rules and regulations for education established by the two states. There are funding, testing and curriculum differences to be resolved and approval would likely be required of state boards of education in both states as well as both state legislatures. It will be necessary for both communities to decide on their road map and proceed down the road efficiently to give state officials the confidence necessary to sign off on the merger.
There will be opposition to this effort in both communities, based largely on school and community pride. These are issues that confront any community considering a merger, even if it is within neighboring towns in the same state. However, the likely advantages outlined above and in more detail in the feasibility study outweigh these concerns.
It is important to note that there is a precedent, as Vermont and New Hampshire, which to their credit have a long history of cooperation, already merged two schools across state lines. Stamford and Clarksburg will surely be looking at these examples as they move forward. This merger could someday set a precedent for mergers between Berkshire schools and schools in Connecticut and New York State. New realities require new concepts that could provide tangible benefits, some of them unanticipated. A Clarksburg-Stamford merger could become a shining example.
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