Clarksburg School, Town Working Together to Address Problems
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — School and town officials are hoping the town is now on the right track with the election of Jeffrey Levanos to the Select Board and the hiring of a town administrator.
Levanos, who attended the School Committee meeting on Thursday, said he was excited to be back but noted the special election on Dec. 7 and the holidays had slowed things a little. The next critical piece will be hiring a town treasurer and tax collector, he said, but it will take some time to get things righted.
The town's been without essential personnel since a wave of resignations from elected and appointed positions in late summer. Issues in the treasurer's office has also delayed the school district's ability to complete reports required by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"The Select Board is moving toward a full body and can meet now and start filling these gaps and we're all kind of in the same predicament," said Superintendent John Franzoni, noting the Northern Berkshire School Union is also in a gap phase in which the new business administrator doesn't start until Jan. 31 and an interim part-time director of pupil services is in place. "I know we have a lot to do catching up to do with both school and town sides working together."
Franzoni said he and Select Board Chair Danielle Luchi had met last month with Jay Sullivan, DESE's associate commissioner for the School Finance and District Support Center to explain the town's situation.
"Mr. Sullivan the told us he could extend us until Jan. 15 For FY21. I told them we're not likely to be done by then, because there's a whole reconciliation process that has to happen that takes a while," he said. "We explained to him that day, it's not that people here are not doing their job, it's that we don't have people in those positions."
He said Sullivan seemed to understand the unique situation they were in and they would figure out the best way to work together.
The school has received its Chapter 70 funds for December and will be getting circuit breaker funds that will be released once the town's caught up.
Both Levanos and Franzoni commended Police Chief Michael Williams for the work he's done after "being thrown into a challenging situation." The chief has been the backup for a number of Town Hall posts including the treasurer and information technology.
"He's definitely made the effort to step into that position and do the best he can to keep it going forward during this challenge," said Franzoni. The town currently has an interim treasurer and the school's administrative assistant, Mary Giron, has been pitching in at Town Hall.
The theme of working together continued as the discussion turned to the school building's deficits. A number of volunteer efforts have helped in upgrading certain areas and the town approved some funding to address more expensive and immediate concerns. The goal has been to keep working with the volunteer group of largely local tradesmen and town officials to continue improvements.
Franzoni said he had spoken with Luchi about scheduling a meeting that could be a renovation group to come together with other committees, such as the ADA Committee. That committee had looked at accessibility in all the town's buildings in report released last fall.
"That might be a good first step for us to look at in terms of what that committee found out through that report and how we can work together to prioritize what are the needs of the town and what realistically we can do," he said.
The school is looking at a potential elevator and which stairwell it might fit into. There is currently no way for someone using a wheelchair or other mobility device to easily get to the cafeteria/gym without walking outside.
Thomas Bona and Robert Norcross, who have both been part of the volunteer effort, attended the meeting to talk about some issues. Norcross said he was putting a list together of what they have done over the past three years. He is still hoping the town will get access to a $500,000 earmark in a capital spending bill to replace the roof. The state has declined to release the funds after the town twice shot down a school project because the school no longer meets state requirements.
"I think it's very important to show the state, our representatives and the Select Board that a lot of people have been putting in time and effort, and that the town put in half a million dollars," said Norcross. "We have a lot to show that town is committed. And I feel that possibly if we can get our reps or or have a meeting, whatever, and try to get the state out here to show them ... There might be a chance that we can revive this."
Principal Tara Barnes also gave an update on the number of COVID-19 cases in the school, which is much better than after the Thanksgiving holiday. There were 24 students in the test and stay program at that time and on Thursday, that number was two.
"I just want to add also, we're really grateful to the town of Clarksburg. They provided free shots to community members. They also gave us a number of tests for the school to be used for staff members," said Barnes.
The town was among 102 in the state that were provided with rapid test kits by the state. Teachers were given the tests prior to the holiday vacation and took the tests before returning on Jan. 3. There were no positives, said Barnes.
The rise in positive cases in other communities has meant staff being out for illness or isolation; both North Adams and Pittsfield had temporary closures because of short staffing.
"So we were in a good spot where all of our staff tested before they came back," Barnes said. "I was wondering how many people we were going to be down coming in, and it was nobody."
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