PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Education Task Force has asked BRPC to take an expanded role in helping school districts regionalize.
The task force had already released its recommendation that eventually the county should have a single school district. That process will take years and have many challenging steps. The group has now asked the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to serve as the "backbone" to support any consolidation efforts county school district undertake.
"We're not setting policy direction for them, we are providing administrative support," said Executive Director Nathaniel Karns.
BRPC already serves as the fiscal agent for the task force, managing the cash flow of $215,000 that has been pumped into the effort thus far. Growing that relationship would include having BRPC write grants, connect stakeholders and districts with needed expertise, and convening meetings and taking minutes.
"This might be one half, full-time coordinator with a little bit of administrative support," Karns said.
Particularly, the organization would be helping the "pioneer" districts that take on efforts navigate the process of regionalizing. Already Lanesborough, Williamstown, and Mount Greylock are into the process of further regionalizing. Lee, Southern Berkshire, and Berkshire Hills are having talks of consolidating as well. Through the task force, BRPC can work with those districts and any others than opting to go that route.
"This sounds like the exact kind of thing BRPC should be involved in. Without county government, there is not much left to provide that kind of support," said BRPC's Pittsfield Representative CJ Hoss.
But others, aren't so quick to take on such a role. Karns said he is worried about the organization's capacity and others questioned how much work it would ultimately be.
"I think the regional planning commission has enough to do," said Egremont Representative Chuck Ogden.
Then again, Ogden asked, "If not us, who?"
Karns said the commission doesn't have office space to bring on a staff member to focus on that. He said it likely wouldn't be somebody physically working out of the Fenn Street office.
The commission's executive committee overall said it would consider it but would like some more details first. The request alone, however, carries some significance. Previously the task force was volunteer, with money being spent to hire consultants. If BRPC takes a stronger administrative role, that would mean professional, local staffing.
"We can't do it for free so for some extent it will be limited financially," Karns said.
And there isn't much of a timetable for how long this process will take. While there are some districts currently working in that direction, the task forces see the one district idea as being a decade out.
"It is evolutionary, not revolutionary," Karns said.
Little by little, districts who look toward consolidating with others would be able to access BRPC's help, should the commission actually opt to take the job. For example, when it comes to merging collective bargaining agreements, BRPC would make the contacts needed with experts in the field to help.
Karns added that regionalization efforts could also be financially supported by the state and private foundations.
Adams Representative John Duval said, "I support doing this as the county organization."
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