Clarksburg, Stamford voters hear summary of merger options

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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Of the three options under consideration by elementary schools in Clarksburg and Stamford, Vt., the most viable would seem to be merging the two schools and splitting the grade levels between them.

That was the main thrust of a report presented by Anna d'Entremont, senior consultant with Public Consulting Group (PCG).

More than 100 interested residents gathered at the Clarksburg school to hear the presentation — the result of a monthslong study conducted by PCG to determine the best path forward for both schools.

Both schools face similar challenges, including declining enrollment, increasing costs and outdated school buildings.

The report explores three basic paths forward: remain separate; share district staff but retain their same grade structure; or merge and split the grade levels between the two schools. Under that scenario, Stamford would host prekindergarten through second grade and Clarksburg would serve students from third to eighth grade.

D'Entremont told the gathering that the first option, to let the schools remain as is, would still involve a great deal of effort to remain viable, especially regarding the buildings — which will be a challenge no matter which option is chosen by the towns.

The second option does not present any gains for the two schools, and could wind up more costly.

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

With the third option, there would be expanded peer groups, meaning the students would wind up making more friends, d'Entremont added.

The third option would also merge administrative duties.

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The biggest challenge, d'Entremont noted, would be reconciling educational standards and requirements of the two states by negotiating with two different state educational bureaucracies to iron out all the compromises that 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.

She recommended that if the voters approve this option, it would be advisable to hire someone to oversee that transition and work with both states "to keep the ball moving forward," she said.

"You'll need someone full time to work on this," d'Entremont said. "It's going to be a big job. Don't just drop it on current staff."

The cost savings resulting from a merger will depend on the two schools doing several things, including increasing class size close to 20 students, and to increase the number of tuition students from other districts.

Both schools would also be wise to increase student access to the library. They would also need to come up with a set of long-term facility master plans to address the aging schools, provide handicapped access and upgrade the technology infrastructure, and come up with a variety of ways to fund improvements to the buildings.

In Clarksburg, she added, officials will need to look at adding a prekindergarten class if a merger does not happen. In Stamford, a strategy should be implemented to recruit and retain teachers and leadership to combat recent turnover.

If the third option is enacted, she noted, there would be a need for another administrative position to establish curriculum alignment, analyze student data and oversee professional development.

Building maintenance and grounds work also would have to be coordinated for the two properties.

If both towns support such a measure during a June vote, then officials from both states would start working on aligning the two states' requirements for the hybrid, two-school, two-state school district, d'Entremont said.

The entire process would take at least two years, she added.


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