STAMFORD, Vt. — Voters in Stamford and Clarksburg, Mass., may not have all the details on a school merger when it comes time to vote.
The Interstate Merger Committee may also recommend a presentation on only two options rather than the three that consultants Public Consulting Group were charged to research.
Those issues were raised Monday during a preliminary review of the findings made by PCG on the feasibility of merging the towns' two elementary schools.
A full presentation of the findings will be made in Clarksburg on May 15 at 6:30 p.m.; the committee and stakeholders will meet with PCG representatives next week for a four-hour workshop to go through the findings and prepare for the May meeting.
"I think one of the challenges is going to be that ... we continue to explore this before we have all the numbers and that some of that is because it's just too big of a scope of a project to have done between January and now," said committee member Kimberly Roberts-Morandi. "The other part of it is that some of this is is still out of our hands, we have to wait until we have legal decisions on this."
The task of merging two town school districts only four miles apart is complicated by the invisible line separating the two states. Among the challenges in bringing them together are educational requirements and funding mechanisms that have to be answered at the legislative level — largely from Montpelier.
Roberts-Morandi said PCG has not been able to get answers to some of its questions at the legislative level. And those will be out of the communities' hands.
"We were hoping that we could have more of an influence on that right away. But that's not the case. So we have to wait," she said. "And, you know, I think the next thing we're looking at is, just again, but do we continue. And that'll be the next discussion."
The committee has been keeping in touch with state lawmakers. Roberts-Morandi and Stamford School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lamore traveled to Montpelier to present to the education committee and also met with the Bennington County state Sens. Richard Sears and Brian Campion.
"We gave them an update on where we are, that we are still pursuing very vigorously the merger with Clarksburg," Lamore said. "They're anxious for us to continue on and they're happy to have the information and the update ... we left there feeling pretty good."
Roberts-Morandi said the town's legislators filed for more money to carry through the effort past July 1, when the funding from both states for the study expires.
John Franzoni, superintendent of the North Berkshire School Union of which Clarksburg is a member, noted that PCG was hired to look at doing nothing, regionalizing but keeping the schools the same, or regionalizing and restructuring the schools by grade.
"I would say the second option of having the schools stay the same is not an option for us," he said. "It doesn't benefit anybody going forward."
The general thought is to turn Stamford School into and early childhood center offering preschool through Grade 2; Clarksburg School would host Grades 3-8. Both schools would then have room for more educational programming.
Stamford would no longer have to have merged grades and Clarksburg would access to a preschool. The configuration would be more efficient in terms of staffing and may offer space to work with students with needs that are now being served out of district.
"We're looking at this as the best educational program for students to keep the schools in both towns," Franzoni said. "We're looking at ways to more efficiently use staff to serve both towns. ...
"We have quality schools and quality staff in both schools, now it's about building off what we have."
The committee agreed to take up the options in discussion with PCG at the April 30 workshop.
In general, the report looks at benefits and challenges from a merger, including class sizes, projected enrollment, teacher licensing, testing, transportation, school building condition, educational programming and opportunities, and the increased workload on the North Berkshire School Union.
The merger is being driven by Vermont's Act 46, which seeks to combine school districts to streamline governance and purchasing power. Stamford, however, is geographically and culturally isolated and rejected the state's push for it to partner with a school 25 miles away. Clarksburg is facing its own challenges with its undersized school building, decreasing population and rising school costs.
Both towns will vote on a merger at special town meetings in June. It process is not expected to be completed until 2021. The preliminary report will be posted by Tuesday on the Clarksburg School website.
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