Clarksburg approves cross-state school merger

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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town voters have approved a proposal to move forward with planning, research and some implementation of a merger between Clarksburg Elementary School and the elementary school in Stamford, Vt.

After about an hour of questions and discussion Wednesday night during the special town meeting, voters overwhelmingly approved of the continued work on the merger. With more than 100 attending, only five voters opposed the measure.

Stamford voters had already approved of further planning during a special town meeting earlier this month.

Prior to the vote, Tara Barnes, principal of Clarksburg Elementary and John Franzoni, superintendent of the Northern Berkshire School Union, explained that the planning to continue the merger at the state level required a vote of support from both communities before both states would commit personnel and funds to work out the many variables that need to be reconciled before a merger can take place.

"Because we'd be crossing state lines, it is very complicated," Franzoni said.

Issues that can't be resolved without help from state officials include merging the teachers unions and determining the logistics for pensions, paychecks and curriculum, among other things.

Barnes explained that a study conducted by consultant group PCG earlier this year, which was funded by a grant, attempted to point to the best path forward for both schools, which face many of the same challenges including dropping enrollment, increasing costs and outdated school buildings.

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With the merger, there would be expanded peer groups, meaning the students would wind up making more friends, and prekindergarten would be provided for Clarksburg children. They have to go out of town for pre-K now. Administrative duties would also be consolidated.

The merger, she noted, shows promise because it would allow for the expansion of educational programs and better utilize the classroom space — offering more opportunities at both buildings.

But reconciling educational standards and requirements of the two states by negotiating with two different state educational bureaucracies to iron out all the compromises will be needed. The towns would have to decide on School Committee oversight. Discrepancies between Massachusetts and Vermont curriculum and standards would have to be reconciled, with the consultant recommending that Stamford be aligned to Massachusetts' standards. The schools' approach to special education would also need to be unified.

The costs associated with the merger are not precisely known yet, but will become more clear once the state officials get involved and can better define how the various issues will be resolved.

Questions about the costs had to be deferred until after further study because that is not yet clear. Some wondered why they couldn't just leave things as they are, saying that there wouldn't be enough to benefit Clarksburg students in such a merger.

Barnes noted that additional classroom space allowing further programs — such as pre-K — would help the students receive a better education.

A later vote in both towns, after the information is more clear, would be required at an undetermined time, but the entire process could take two or more years, Franzoni said.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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