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Clarksburg Sets Vote for School Merger Proposal
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
03:59AM / Thursday, July 18, 2019
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Select Board on Wednesday afternoon set the date for a special town meeting to vote on the next steps toward a school district merger with Stamford, Vt. 
 
The special town meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 31, at 6:30 p.m. at Clarksburg School. 
 
Stamford last week voted overwhelmingly to continue research on what it would take to merge the two schools. The vote was for the so-called Option 3 — a recommendation by Public Consulting Group and school officials in both towns to fully merge to better utilize both school buildings.
 
That decision, however, raised some protest in Stamford where town meeting voters questioned why they couldn't vote on each proposal: Option 1, which meant no merger, and Option 2, in which the school would stay separate but share administration.
 
"You can correct me if I'm wrong, but basically Option 2 is off the table," Select Board member Jeffrey Levanos asked Superintendent of Schools John Franzoni. "And if they don't vote for Option 3, that's Option 1 automatically because it kills it."
 
Levanos, who had attended the Stamford vote, expressed concern that voters should understand the reasoning for going with Option 3.
 
Franzoni responded that there would be a brief presentation at the July 31 meeting and there had been joint meetings for the two towns to explain the findings of PCG, which was hired by the Interstate School Merger Committee to provide research and recommendations. The consensus had been that Option 2 wasn't feasible. 
 
"It brings the two districts together with the same administration but it doesn't address the educational needs of either school and they think it's not really a financial benefit either," he said.
 
Rather, if the merger moves forward, Stamford School would become an early education center with Grades prekindergarten through 2 and Clarksburg School would house Grades 3 through 8. This would result in larger classes and open up space in both buildings for more programming. 
 
"All we're really saying with this vote is that it gives us the OK to do some more work next year, because we still have some pretty big issues to look into like the pensions and the contracts of the teachers," Franzoni said.
 
He used for an example the inclusion of Monroe and Rowe into the Northern Berkshire School Union. Because those two towns are in Franklin County, the teachers are in a different pension system and that's caused problems. 
 
A Clarksburg and Stamford merger is even more complicated because of different state regulations, how wages would be paid across state lines, employee contracts, and how it would affect teacher retirement. Teachers who retire in Massachusetts, for example, can work in Vermont and New Hampshire without affecting their pensions. 
 
Some of these challenges have been faced by other interstate school districts such as Rivendell, which serves students in two elementary schools in Vermont and a high school in New Hampshire. 
 
"I look at it from the school side, it makes a lot of sense but that state line complicates a lot of things," Franzoni said. "We have to get those answers before we enter this."
 
Levanos also noted there were questions about where money would be spent on school buildings and concerns about the sustainability of Clarksburg School after voters rejected a $19 million renovation.
 
Franzoni said the idea is that each town would own and be responsible for their school building. The town of Clarksburg owns its school but ownership is less clear in Stamford. The Stamford School Board of Directors has operated the building — which also contains the town offices, library and preschool — but hasn't been able to find documentation clarifying ownership of the 1960 structure. 
 
Meanwhile, Clarksburg is making some progress on updates to its similarly aged building with new furnaces being installed and the receipt of a $35,000 state grant for a new, more secure entrance.
 
"We're trying all avenues to work with the town and Department of Education to find money for the building," said Franzoni, referring also to the half-million in borrowing for the school approved at town meeting. "Let's make it sustainable ... We're trying, we're working hard and we're making progress toward that. And that's, I'm sure those are going to be questions that'll be asked."
 
Town meeting approval of Option 3 will allow the merger committee to use state grant funds to hire a consultant to help determine more in-depth answers to the legal and educational issues. Both towns would have to vote again before a merger could be accomplished. 
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