Our Opinion: Progress with WRHS; a block in South County
The controversy that threatened to hold up construction of a new Wahconah Regional High School appears to have ended with a good compromise. The process of considering a merger between South County high schools has stumbled out of the starting blocks, and for no apparent good reason.
The Central Berkshire Regional School Committee Thursday made two concessions to address the concerns of the town of Hinsdale (Eagle, July 26). The Hinsdale Select Board's decision to retain a lawyer to challenge the process that led to approval of the new school had threatened to stall the bonding process for the $72 million project.
After talks with Hinsdale, CBRSD officials agreed to return to the former procedure for voting on capital projects in which the vote of each of the seven district towns is considered separately. The April vote approving the new school was decided by a majority vote even though voters in four towns were in opposition. The majority vote was not illegal and a similar majority vote in an Eastern Massachusetts school district was recently upheld after a court challenge. The prior system invites paralysis by providing for minority rule, and while the concession by the CBRSD will keep the high school project moving forward it could be problematic in the future unless the district can formally adopt the majority vote procedure at some point..
The CBRSD also agreed to pursue ways to reduce the $72 million price tag on the project. Hinsdale seeks cuts of 10 to 20 percent which may be unrealistic and we urge the town to accept a good faith effort by district officials to find a way to cut costs.
The talks between Hinsdale and CBRSD apparently persuaded Peru and Windsor against pursuing their own legal challenges. We hope that the construction of the new high school, which will benefit the member towns, students and their parents for decades to come, will now proceed without a hitch.
In South County, the Southern Berkshire Regional School District School Committee has rejected an overture from the Berkshire Hills Regional School District to begin talks about merging Mount Everett and Monument Mountain High Schools as "premature." (Eagle, July 26). How can the first step in a process be "premature"? Southern Berkshire School Committee Chairwoman Jane Burke said in a letter to its neighboring district that the process should begin with a discussion about common goals and the impact of regionalization, which is essentially what the BHRSD was proposing.
Officials from the SBRSD towns of Alford, Egremont, Monterey and New Marlborough have endorsed high school merger talks, with Alford urging the talks be expanded to include a merger of districts. Both a merger of high schools and districts has potential for both districts but in particular the smaller Southern Berkshire District. We urge the SBRSD School Committee to reconsider its stance. There is no harm in talking and there could be real benefits.
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