Lev, School Committee Chairwoman Patricia Prenguber, Stamford School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lamore, Roberts-Morandi and school legal counsel Fred Dupere.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Voters in Clarksburg will decide Thursday if they want to start down the path of creating an interstate school district.
The single article at the special town meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Clarksburg School on Thursday will allow the town to enter into conversations with Stamford, Vt.
Both schools are kindergarten through Grade 8; Stamford also has a preschool attended by a number of Clarksburg children. Both schools tuition students to neighboring high schools, mostly to Drury High and McCann Technical in North Adams.
Although the article refers to an agreement, no formal agreement would be entered into until a feasibility study is completed, both towns and both state legislatures approve and an act is passed by the U.S. Congress.
"It's at least a year from now we're looking at," said Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Lev at an information session held last Thursday. "We want to have the time to look at this very carefully."
An initial vote on the article was tabled at a December special town meeting when School Committee members objected to the wording, which they had not seen and which appeared to approve an agreement that had not been negotiated. However, that language is apparently required by the Legislature even to begin discussions.
Clarksburg officials were making clear what the issues were this time around. School and town officials, as well as members of the volunteer group spearheading the effort, presented the concept to about three dozen Clarksburg and Stamford residents. A brochure spelling out the reasoning for an interstate school district and the process was also mailed out to community members.
If approved by Thursday's vote, the next step would be to contract with a consulting agency to look at the legal, educational, and costs of merging the two school districts into one. Clarksburg has $25,000 in state funding set aside; a yes vote will encourage Vermont lawmakers to provide the matching funds.
"I would want as part of this process that they speak with the teachers in both buildings, speak with administrators in both towns, and hold public hearings ... get a lot of information," Lev said.
Kimberly Roberts-Morandi of Stamford, a member of the ad hoc committee and also an administrator in the North Adams Public Schools, said there would be changes but also benefits for both towns.
"Stamford would be looking at this as we would be merging with Massachusetts and adopting Massachusetts standards for the students across the board and doing it with a school system that is already one of the higher ranks in the Berkshire area," she said. Both schools also tend to produce some of the higher-performing students in high school. "So we're doing something right in both systems. ...
"It's a small-town, small-school approach."
The benefits could be enhancing educational opportunities in the arts, languages and other areas, keeping together students who will enter high school together, keeping both schools open but using their spaces better, building on what the schools already have and working on sustainable budgets.
Clarksburg would get the preschool the community has indicated it wants and Stamford children would be introduced to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System early on, instead of getting their first (and must pass to graduate) test in high school.
The idea of merging has been pushed forward by changes in educational laws in Vermont, better known as Act 46, which calls for small school districts to begin forming unions to enhance education and save money through collaboration. Stamford officials believe merging with Clarksburg fulfills the conditions of Act 46.
The Vermont town made its decision a year ago but rejecting an Act 46 plan by a vote of 173-6. The state had proposed putting Stamford in with Readsboro and with another town 25 miles away — which would have been like partnering Stamford with Allendale School in Pittsfield.
Cynthia Lamore, chairman of the Stamford school directors, said the towns were linked through family, history and culture.
"There's a line there, but it's invisible. We cross it all the time because we are friends we are neighbors," she said. Residents in both towns go to work together, worship together, shop at the same stores, eat in the same restaurants, go to the same doctors and have their children participate in the same clubs and youth sports. "The road north is not conducive to traffic."
Lev estimated that a consultant could be contracted by the end of summer, should article pass and funding come through from Vermont. It could take up to a year for the consultants to come up with recommendations and votes would have to be taken.
"For any of this to happen, we're literally looking for an act of Congress," said Roberts-Morandi, adding that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont's U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders are both aware of the proposal and their offices have asked to be kept informed.
Town Administrator Carl McKinney, who with Selectmen Chairman Jeffery Levanos had approached Stamford last year, said it made sense for the towns to team up in light of declining population and rising costs.
"We don't have all the answers, this is is what this study is for," he said. "I can't think of a better partner for the town of Clarksburg or the town of Stamford. ... What we're asking you folks is permission to move forward and answer this ...
"We would like to chart a course that is sustainable."
Roberts-Morandi was a bit blunter: "It's a one-shot deal ... if it's no next week, then it's done."
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