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Stamford Advisory Vote on School Merger Slated July 8

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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STAMFORD, Vt. — Stamford voters will be the first to decide whether to pursue a school district merger with Clarksburg, Mass.; Clarksburg is expected to hold its own special town meeting on the matter by late July. 
The special town meeting will be held on Monday, July 8, at 7 p.m. at Stamford School. Voters will be deciding whether they want to take the next steps and in form the proposed merger should take. 
The two small communities — separated by an arbitrary state line — began down the path toward a groundbreaking merger two years ago. The idea was prompted by Vermont's passage of Act 46, a measure designed to streamline governance and promote shared services between rural districts. 
Rather than looking north to Readsboro and Halifax, 25 miles away, Stamford looked south at the invitation of Clarksburg officials who were dealing with their own school issues, largely around space and building conditions. 
Using $50,000 in grant funding from both Massachusetts and Vermont, the merger committee hired Public Consulting Group to do a feasibility study laying out possible options and the challenges and opportunities of a shared district. This spring, PCG presented its results to voters in both towns. 
The committee was looking at three options: no merger, merge to share services but keep the schools separate, or merge as a fully integrated district with Stamford as the early education center with preK-2 and Clarksburg housing Grades 3-8. 
The merger committee is leaning toward the third option as providing the most benefits in terms of educational standards, space and programming. 
Jessica Tatro of Stamford School Board of Directors put together a trifold with information and bullet points to help voters understand what the options are. She said it could be reused for the Clarksburg meeting.
"One of the things that we had talked about ... was this idea of what is the common message," said member Kimberly Roberts-Morandi. "That we want to make sure of the highlights that we're hitting in both meetings."
Option 3 will require some investment: a project manager to be the key person on the merger, aligning the curriculum to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, a full-time business manager for the Northern Berkshire School Union, and a building and grounds or facilities manager for both schools. 
The MCAS curriculum is a must, given that a major consideration for the merger is that Stamford students attend Massachusetts high schools. Testing begins in Grade 3 so it would have to be done through a Massachusetts located school. 
NBSU, which is made up of the Massachusett's towns of Clarksburg, Florida, Savoy, Monroe and Rowe, hired a full-time business manager who started on Monday. PCG has recommended a full-time building manager in light of the age of the two schools and their needs, particularly Clarksburg's efforts to make significant capital repairs. 
"The recommendation of PCG is that we hire a either retired or part-time administrator to help with all the work that needs to be done as part of option three in terms of the pension work and the contracts and licensure and working together with the state," said John Franzoni, superintendent of schools for NBSU.
There has already been some interest in the post, he said, but it will require more support from the two states to continue the process. PCG has also expressed in continuing in an advisory role.  
Clarksburg has another $30,000 in grant funding but the timeline on when it can be spent is not clear. Should both towns vote to continue, the committee is hoping that Vermont will once again match the amount. 
State representatives on both sides of the border have been supportive of the effort and it is being watched closely by higher government officials as a possible model for other communities down the road.
What the committee will not be able to answer at the upcoming special town meetings is specific cost savings if any, how it will be funded and how it will affect employees in terms of licensing, contracts and pensions. 
"The answer to that is this is what this vote is going to do," said Cynthia Lamore, chairman of the Stamford School Board. "It will let us get into the meat and potatoes now because the state doesn't want to be committed to 'this is how this is going to work, this is how that's going work' until both the towns have committed."
The vote on Monday and later in the month in Clarksburg will only be advisory votes allowing the towns to continue to pursue grants and details of how the merger could work. A no vote would mean Stamford could be forced by the state to join Southern Valley Unified Union School District.

Tags: merger,   special town meeting,   

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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. 
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