|Clarksburg/Stamford Merger Study Presented on Wednesday|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
06:35PM / Tuesday, May 14, 2019
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The consultants hired by Clarksburg and Stamford, Vt., will lay out a proposed roadmap for the merger of the towns' elementary schools into a single, interstate district.
Public Consulting Group, hired earlier this year, will present the opportunities and challenges to such a merger on Wednesday, May 15, at 6:30 p.m. at Clarksburg School.
The group was charged to look at three options for the towns: maintaining the status quo, merging but keeping the current grade configuration at each school, and merging and creating an early education school at Stamford and a Grade 3-8 school in Clarksburg.
Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent John Franzoni and members of the merger committee have considered Option 2 — keeping the schools separate — as not being beneficial to either town.
A chart created by PCG looking at various aspects of the schools bears that out with Option 2 not addressing needs such as class sizes, space and preschool, or savings in programming or instruction.
"PCG does not recommend this scenario as a viable option," the report states. "The complexity of merging central office functions does not realize enough benefits to make it an attractive approach."
Option 3 would offer the potential for expanded educational benefits that are considered the primary goal of a merger, although officials also hope to see some cost savings by combining forces.
"Cost savings are dependent on key policy decisions, namely choice students and class size," according to the report. "An updated class size policy, coupled with continued acceptance of choice students, will have the greatest overall impact on budget."
Clarksburg by state law has the ability to accept school choice students — children from outside the town — who fill vacant seats to bring up class sizes. The revenue that flows to the school district through school choice can be used for programming, salaries and other needs. Stamford currently does not have that option.
PCG assumes classes sizes of about 19 in the lower grades through combining the schools and school-choice students and about 22 for Grades 3-8. Those are closer to median class size for Massachusetts schools. No grades would be combined.
Stamford would supply five classrooms for 95 students and one open for any prekindergarten overflow; Clarksburg would have nine classrooms for 220 students, leaving three open for overflow or additional programming. It would also allow for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing, which begins in Grade 3, to be done in the Massachusetts school.
In terms of educational recommendations, the merged school district should create a curriculum and professional development coordinator; align curriculum to Massachusetts standards; offer preschool and before and after school care; offer community and family events to create new traditions; and create a shared special education vision and mission.
The consultants also advise selling Stamford School to the town of Stamford to eliminate oversight issues; the school building is a shared complex that holds the town offices and library and serves the senior community.
The report also offers recommendations on creating long-term plans for education, facilities, policies, and budgeting, and addressing the impact on the Northern Berkshire School Union. One recommendation — to hire a full-time business manager — has already been fulfilled.
Other issues that would have to be addressed are teacher and administration contracts, tax implications, and governance. The details of any merger would also need approval of the Massachusetts Department of Education and the Vermont Agency of Education and the states' respective Legislatures and the U.S. Congress.
The study found there was a preference by some stakeholders in closing Clarksburg School if a merger was rejected. The consultants recommended an analysis be done on the costs related to closing the building, including continued maintenance on the empty structure or tearing it down and its effect on the library.
"PCG believes these costs may be much more substantial than the town's preliminary analysis my suggest," the report states.
Another possibility could be regionalization within the school union or with North Adams Public Schools, or more shared services such as food services, transportation or purchasing.
Stamford would have to get greater clarification on its ability to remain an independent school district. The discussion on merging with Clarksburg was prompted by Vermont's Act 46 that seeks to streamline governance and services by merging school districts. Stamford would be linked with a school 25 miles away under Act 46, which led school officials to look south to Clarksburg School, four miles and 10 minutes away.
Other recommendations for Stamford included recruiting local students who are now attending private school and creating more opportunities for middle school students to participate in activities with peer groups.
The education group offered some "universal recommendations" for whichever option the towns considered.
For Clarksburg, the recommendations are to increase class sizes to 19-22 students for a "notable cost savings" and to bring it closer to the median class size for Massachusetts schools. Establishing a prekindergarten, which has some 53 children in that age group whose parents mostly work outside the home. Developing an agreement that will give the school more access to the attached town library. And development of a long-term capital and funding plan to address infrastructure deficiencies and maintenance.
Stamford is advised to also develop a long-term facilities and maintenance plan and also an agreement for better access for students to the attached town library. And create a plan to address the high turnover of teachers and administrator that can affect student outcomes and school culture.