Committee members Cynthia Brule, left, Chairwoman Patricia Prenguber and Laura Wood hear reports at Thursday's meeting.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Consultants are already at work sussing out the challenges and benefits of an interstate school merger with Stamford, Vt.
Public Consulting Group will hold its first public meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at Clarksburg School for both towns and will set a series of meeting with focus groups.
"That town meeting will be for that feasibility group to share some information with both towns and any questions people have just as they're starting their work and they'll be back at the end of February," Superintendent John Franzoni said. "They want to be transparent, they want to get the information out there. They want to connect with the people in both towns, both schools, to get a full picture of the situation so they can make a recommendation about this merger."
Franzoni and School Committee Chairwoman Patricia Prenguber participated in a conference call with PCG and planned on continuing that every Thursday morning to review schedules and plans. The consultants will return twice more in February to meet with eight-10 focus groups of parents, teachers, central office, school and town officials, community members and others.
The Interstate School District Committee — made up of members from Stamford and Clarksburg — voted in late December to recommend Boston-based PCG. The decision was made based on the consultant's familiarity with Vermont education laws, the interstate Rivendell School District and its deep bench of support resources, including legal counsel.
"I feel it was a challenging decision we made but it looks like we've got a good group to work with," Franzoni said. "It looks like they're following through with what they proposed and what they plan to do as far as their initial proposal."
The merger is being largely 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.
The consultants will look at options for using both buildings in different grade configurations to benefit academic programming, teaching licensure, and building utilization. They will also offer recommendations on governance and funding and the legal avenues that will have to be wended.
"They're going to look at how both buildings could be used effectively, I think that's a key component of this," Franzoni said. "I'm just impressed so far with their thoroughness and their preparation."
The consultants will also research how the merger could affect the Northern Berkshire School Union, of which Clarksburg is already the largest member.
State Sen. Adam Hinds visited toured the school on Wednesday, Dec. 12, a half-day, and was given the background on the efforts to repair or renovate immediate problems in the building. A volunteer group has been working with school and town officials to pursue repairs after the vote for a $19 million school renovation project failed in 2017.
Hinds had placed an earmark of $500,000 in a state capital spending authorization to fix the roof on the older section. Officials have been told access to the funds could be "a longshot," said Franzoni, because it would have to go through the Massachusetts School Building Authority is aware "the building needs more than a roof."
The senator told him it would be in the town's best interest to write letters to the governor asking for the funds' release to address the real needs of the building. Hinds was also interested in keeping abreast of the progress of the merger, he said.
Hinds and state Rep. John Barrett III (and originally the late state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi) had aided in ensuring $25,000 toward the merger feasibility study. That amount was matched by the Vermont Legislature and another $30,000 was added in by the town of Clarksburg through a Community Compact grant.
In other business, Principal Tara Barnes gave a short report on professional development and last month's eighth-grade Holocaust event ("They get to have pizza with a Holocaust survivor and I don't know how many kids get to say that").
She also noted the results of the schoolwide math curriculum that was instituted about four years ago, referencing how she watched students breaking discs into sections to understand fractions and algorithms. "They could really connect why and what does it look physically when I'm actually doing this," she said. "It was a hard transition four years ago but I see the fruits of it."
• The school will hold its annual Super Bowl Sunday pancake breakfast fundraiser on Feb. 3.
• Franzoni reported that he had hired Jon Friedman, currently assistant principal of the elementary schools in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, as a five-day school adjustment counselor for the Northern Berkshire School Union. Friedman holds a master's in social work and was a school adjustment counselor for 15 years in the Central Berkshire Regional School District. He replaces Doug Wentworth, who was with the school union for 17 years.
He also reported that the school's cook, Brenda Bohl, has resigned and that the cafeteria manager, Joanne Gadebusch, wished to take over the cook's position. The cafeteria manager job will be posted.
• The committee voted to resume recording meetings for Northern Berkshire Community Television. The recordings had been stopped at some point during the summer. School Committee Cynthia Brule thought they should be aired if it would be easier for people to find out what was happening. Prenguber agreed.
"They do a great job broadcasting concerts and school events ... that's something we should do," Franzoni said. "There's so many positive things. We should get that out there and show all the positive things that are happening in our schools."
• The committee entered into executive session to speak with a parent about a student.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article accidently implied the MSBA may have control over the roof funds; it does not, but the state agency is aware of the condition of the school building.
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Clarksburg Officials Feel More Discussion Needed on Merger
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Interstate Merger Committee has hired Public Consulting Group to lead it through the next steps toward a merger between Clarksburg and Stamford (Vt.) Schools.
However, the Clarksburg contingent feels more discussion is needed on the merits of a merger between the two small elementary schools.
Superintendent John Franzoni filled the School Committee in last week about the selection of PCG, which had done the initial study of the schools that was presented to the towns. Based on that research, the adjoining towns both voted to continue the process to determine how such a merger would work and what legal processes would be necessary.
There had been only two bids for the request for proposals for a coordinator to develop a plan of action and liaison with state and federal officials. The second was the local Berkshire Educational Consulting Group, lead by Howard "Jake" Eberwein III and William Ballen, longtime educators and administrators in the region.
The School Committee voted for the two-week block on Thursday to ensure the school will be vacant for construction on the new secure entrance. That means students will have both the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas and will also have Jan. 2 and 3 off as well.
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The 11 percent jump in the tax rate is largely because of the $1 million borrowing approved at town meeting in May. The borrowing to address a number of capital projects is excluded from Proposition 2 1/2 but the tax impact will only last five years.
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