Study in hand, Stamford, Vt., Clarksburg to discuss interstate schools merger plan

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STAMFORD, Vt. — Monday will be the first in a series of meetings that will be crucial to the future of education in Stamford and Clarksburg, Mass.

The meeting of the interstate merger committee will summarize a consultant group's findings in analyzing a potential interstate merger between the two rural towns' elementary schools.

It will be followed by a four-hour action planning session on April 30, which will lead to a "recommendations road map" on May 15.

"This is going to be a really important next month or so for Clarksburg and Stamford," said John Franzoni, superintendent of the North Berkshire School Union, which oversees Clarksburg School.

The merger of schools across the Vermont and Massachusetts border would be the first such agreement of its kind. The aim, in theory, is to create a single, more sustainable district that improves educational offerings to students.

"It's not just about the dollars, but it's also about the opportunities available for the students as well. Because it's been such a complex issue, we want to make sure everyone understands it fully," said Cindy Lamore, chairwoman of the Stamford School Committee.

The purpose of the meeting on Monday — scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Stamford Elementary — is to provide the public with a summary of all of the information the consultant has amassed since embarking on a feasibility study earlier this year.

Boston-based Public Consulting Group was selected to conduct a feasibility study funded by both towns. It outlined its parameters in an informational session in January and began meeting with stakeholders in both towns in February, interviewing teachers, district personnel, parents, and taxpayers.

"They've taken all those interviews, put them together, and bundled all budgets and school spending," Lamore said. "They have a pretty good picture of the financial situation and spending for each."

There are three basic options on the table.

The towns could do nothing; they could share district oversight but keep the schools separate; or, lastly, they could merge on a grade level and combine classes.

Although a recommendation and its potential ramifications will become more clear at the May 15 meeting, it will hardly be the end of public input on the matter, which would likely head for a special town meeting vote in Stamford and Clarksburg.

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"It's going to take more meetings to make sure everyone understands what those options are and what those options will entail," Lamore said. "I'm hopeful one of [the options] will stand out to be the best solution."

Interest in the merger was spurred in part by Vermont's Act 46, which forced school districts across the state to consolidate. According to the Vermont Agency of Education, the 2014 law has resulted in 45 districts in 39 towns combining to form 11 new union school districts and enlarged three existing union school districts.

Stamford was set to be among them, but in 2017 voters shot down a proposal to merge with two other Vermont towns, Readsboro and Halifax.

If the merger is carried out, the two towns could form a single, prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade district. It would likely fall under the North Berkshire School Union umbrella, which also oversees schools in Monroe, Rowe, Florida and Savoy.

Although the two schools are separated by the state border, officials in both towns have highlighted the cultural similarities between these rural towns. Stamford and Clarksburg's schools are separated by less than four miles, and students from both towns attend high school in the Northern Berkshires, typically either McCann Tech or Drury High School.

The potential merger raises a number of questions.

The towns have to decide how would maintain governance over the schools if and when their respective school boards merge.

Inside the classroom, the schools would have to reconcile any differences in state standards, assessment and curriculum.

By combining grades, the merger would also impact class sizes and potentially enhance opportunities for extracurricular activities. Clarksburg would benefit from accessing Stamford's prekindergarten program.

The town's respective school buildings are also at play, with Clarksburg needing substantial capital investment.

The towns would also have to work through issues of transportation, special education services and the ways in which a merger would impact staff members.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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