Superintendent John Franzoni speaks to the School Committee.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Massachusetts is encouraging Clarksburg to think bigger than just merging across the state line.
Superintendent John Franzoni said the Department of Education has told school officials to take a deeper look at regionalization with other school districts beyond an interstate agreement with Stamford, Vt.
"They communicated that we need to look at all options for regionalization," he said. "So including what other towns in Massachusetts would be interested in being part of a regional agreement. ... They want to know what other options have been looked at and if we don't show them other options were looked at, they're not going to approve it."
The Northern Berkshire School Union is composed of five separate elementary school districts — Clarksburg, Florida, Monroe, Rowe and Savoy — with a shared central office. But each town school district is essentially separate.
At the same time, Clarksburg is exploring a merger with Stamford, Vt., and part of Thursday evening was spent reviewing a request for proposals to hire a candidate to shepherd the next step in the process. The Interstate Merger Committee agreed that more detail needed to be linked or added to the request and Franzoni repeated what he'd say at the earlier meeting of the School Committee.
"If we're looking at the structure for merging with this town, they're saying why aren't we doing it with the other towns?" Franzoni said.
The state has been pushing for more regionalization and funded the Berkshire County Education Task Force, which is recommending a countywide school district. Vermont has been pushing similar actions more aggressively with the passage of Act 46 that sparked the merger talks between Stamford and Clarksburg.
The current school union has had challenges in conforming financial and educational matters across town lines and even counties. Two employees in the school union office have been charged for Social Security by Rowe in Franklin County since it joined the union and aren't likely to see that reimbursed. And one town paying an extra $60,000 to bus students -- funds that could be covered by regional transportation aid.
Franzoni was having his own issues with a term life insurance policy because it turns out he was being covered in both Rowe and Clarksburg, which were in turn reimbursing themselves and each other. The bill for Clarksburg is $3.14 a quarter.
He'd drop one but it was just an minor irritant, he said, and had asked Town Treasurer Ericka Oleson to attend the meeting so it could be discussed.
He also had to move his health insurance from Rowe to Clarksburg because of state law even though it was the same carrier and Clarksburg had a more expensive plan. Yet two assistants were moving their plans to Rowe -- which can offer lower rates because it's in a larger pool.
"It's just a frustrating situation," Franzoni said. "To put it in perspective, because of the way the plan is set up, it's costing the towns more to have my insurance in Clarksburg."
Beyond that, there have been other issues of towns rejecting bills approved by school committees.
"It kind of points out one of the things that is a challenging part of our job, which is that having five independent towns and doing the bills through each of these towns is not the most efficient model, and it doesn't always get us the money that we need," Franzoni said, adding it was coming to a head with the Stamford talks. "We're looking at the structure for merging these two towns, which is on the table right now.
"They're telling us we need to look at a bigger, you know, who else is available to be part of that."
In other business:
• Principal Tara Barnes reported on the first days and told the committee that the school had had an announced fire drill and that teachers participated in a "Hungry Hippo" community circle by using baskets to grab balls. They acted out to model core principles and "something that displayed integrity and respect for perseverance," said Barnes.
"But one of the things that was really important ... was living our values, and moments that aren't just designed like that," Barnes said. "How do you connect our anchors to whatever it is you're teaching to, or whatever is happening. So I think that's something that's a focus for us this year."
• The school also has a new cafeteria manager in James Callahan and a PIN system for electronically recording lunches.
"It's been a bumpy road. But I think a valuable one to travel," said Barnes. "Because the system ultimately is going to make it a lot easier."
Franzoni said Callahan off to a good start in promoting the school's breakfast program. "I think that's really a nice upgrade," he said. "We're doing with some breakfast sandwiches, some yogurt, parfait, some fresh items that should be appealing to the kids."
• The school also has a new teaching assistant for the Student Support Center but is still looking for another person.
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