A special town meeting on Wednesday approved more research on creating an interstate school district with Stamford, Vt.
Town Clerk Carol Jammalo opens the special town meeting with, from left, Select Board members Chairman Ronald Boucher, Jeffrey Levanos and Danielle Luchi, and School Committee members Cynthia Brule, Chairwoman Laura Wood and Eric Denette.
Principal Tara Barnes gives a presentation on the work done to date.
After more than a half hour of debate, Ron Miles called the question that was seconded by Carl McKinney. The town meeting voted to close discussion and move onto the article, which passed.
Town Clerk Carol Jammalo swears in Ray Moulthrop as temporary town moderator for the special town meeting.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Clarksburg voters clear the way on Wednesday for the next step in the proposed school district merger with Stamford, Vt.
Of the 78 voters who attended the special town meeting at Clarksburg School, only about a half-dozen voted against further research on the merger.
"It's going to involve more studying and more exploration, because one of the things we discovered was, there's so many things that we are not able to answer on a local level that we need a lot of state help with," explained Principal Tara Barnes.
Barnes provided a brief presentation of the findings of Public Consulting Group, the educational consulting firm hired by the merger committee. PCG spent nearly five months researching the intricacies of the merger, speaking with stakeholders ranging from community members to students in both towns, and coming up with recommendations that were presented in both towns earlier this spring.
Officials couldn't answer many of the questions residents had, Barnes said, because there was just so far that PCG could go because those matters will require lawmakers and state agencies making changes in policies and calculating costs.
"And that's why this vote is important," she said. "We can't go to the state and say we want to do all these things if no one in this town wants to do that."
The two communities began down the path toward a groundbreaking merger two years ago. The idea was prompted by Vermont's passage of Act 46, a measure designed to streamline governance and promote shared services between rural districts. Stamford was assigned to the new Southern Valley Unified Union School District with Readsboro and Halifax, nearly 25 miles away.
Stamford voted not to join that school union two years ago, and a small group began to explore a merger with Clarksburg. The newly formed Interstate School Committee, which is composed of residents and officials from both towns, hired PCG using grant funds provided by both states.
Now that both communities have voted in the positive, the committee is also expected to hire a coordinator, also using grant funds, to work with the states to gain a clearer picture of what a merger could accomplish and the challenges to get there.
The votes by Stamford on July 8 and Clarkburg on July 31 means the committee will pursue "Option 3" of the three options distilled by PCG. Option 1 would have been no merger, Option 2 would have shared only administration.
Option 3, however, would be a full merger and reconfiguration of the schools to create an early childhood center in Stamford and a Grades 3-8 school in Clarksburg. PCG and school officials say this is the most efficient use of the two buildings academically and more cost effective than Option 2.
While the options were spelled out on the warrant, the vote was on Option 3; a no vote would be Option 1 by default. But even if the vote had failed, Barnes warned that Option 1 didn't mean status quo — there are actions the school would have to take in any case, including developing a long-term maintenance and repair plan for the obsolete building.
"This group held meetings between the towns, and that was very informative to hear people in Stamford of what they wanted, and people in Clarksburg," said resident Martha Beattie. "It seemed like our needs matched each other very well. We needed more space, they have space, they need a larger student body, at least a lot of parents said that."
But David Peck said it seemed the benefits were mainly for Stamford, because it would not have to consolidate with schools farther north.
"We're all about Stamford, I'm worried about our kids," he said. "You're talking about keeping the kids in the school. And then in the next breath, you want to take kindergartners through second grade and bus them to Stamford, Vt."
Selectman Jeffrey Levanos said it was thinking about the kids not to force Stamford children in a situation where they may have to be bused over the mountain to Halifax. But, said Peck, "I mean, that's, that's not our problem."
One mother who was already sending her child to the Stamford preschool, said that program was very good and Clarksburg children would be able to get the benefit of it in a merger. And, she said, she moved to Clarksburg so her child could go to Clarksburg School.
"I would like to see the school continue and have that choice to merge with another small community, not send my child to North Adams Public Schools," she said.
"I think one of the other things we need to keep in mind is if we are not able to keep up this building, our children are going to have to go to North Adams," said Ann Billetz. "So when we're talking about what benefits our kids, if we can't make this work in one way or another, we will have no Clarksburg school and our kids will have to go to North Adams."
Carl McKinney, who as town administrator had broached the merger to Stamford, noted that the recently passed state budget had minimal extra money for Clarksburg School but millions set aside to aid school districts in consolidations and mergers.
"The handwriting is on the wall, folks, it's there, you just got to read it," he said. "They're going make you merge, and it might not be today. And it might not be tomorrow, but the handwriting is on the wall. And I think that if we look northward is what we thought would be in the best interest of the community, the taxpayer and the students.
"You want to pick your dance partner. And I think that Stamford would be a good dance partner."
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