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Clarksburg/Stamford Seeking Coordinator for Merger Planning
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:05PM / Saturday, September 07, 2019
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Interstate Merger Committee is finishing up details on a request for proposals to continue the next step in the proposed Clarksburg and Stamford, Vt., school merger. 
 
Committee members and school officials reviewed the document on Thursday following a Clarksburg School Committee meeting. The basis was the RFP used to find Public Consulting Group last year. PCG did the background research and developed three possible options for the two towns as well as recommendations for both school districts whether they continued talks or not. 
 
One of those recommendations was hiring someone to drive the next phase in the merger that both communities approved at special town meetings earlier this summer. 
 
Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent John Franzoni was concerned that RFP that had been used for a feasibility study did not adequately express the challenges the proposed coordinator was expected to resolve.
 
He also wanted to make sure "we get the right kind of people applying" for the post. He's already had some interested people reach out who fall into the superintendent or retired superintendent category, but wondered if they could fulfill the expectations of the committee.
 
"I want to make sure that we're phrasing this so that we're going to get the right response back ... the whole point is to have an individual who is boots on the ground, a person with connections who could drive some of this work," Franzoni said. "That's something I think was a big focus of our conversation in previous meetings we've had in the summer and from our talks with PCG about having an individual who can kind of drive this work."
 
This job would be different than the background research work done by PCG and will require one or more people able to coordinate with the committee and policymakers and legislators in both states to delineate a pathway to a merger and find resolutions to differing contracts, pensions, educational laws, curriculum, purchasing, licensing, governance, and costs and funding.
 
"So you want them to tell you they know how do to all that?" asked committee member Kelly Holland. "Or do you want to spell that out right from the get go that those are the fine-tuned kind of things you want them to explore?"
 
She suggested that the agreement of the Vermont-New Hampshire Rivendell Interstate School District be referenced as a guide. 
 
"They have a lot of answers to these," Holland said of the areas Franzoni was concerned about. "It's just whether Massachusetts will allow what New Hampshire did."
 
The committee made some minor changes to the RFP, including changing "consultant" to candidate(s) and determining a completion date of June 30, 2020, to coincide with the end of the fiscal year. The coordinator is expected to be funded through grant funds for a total of about 500 hours. 
 
"You do have the committee's background, the background of the two towns, just for reference, and of course the PCG study would be available to them, and maybe we need to put that in there," said Cynthia Lamore, a member of the merger committee and chairman of the Stamford School Board of Directors. "It's a little lengthy, but I think it really outlines what we want."
 
Franzoni also said the coordinator should consider regionalization scheme beyond just Clarksburg and Stamford that could include other school districts. The school union operates as five independent school districts with some shared central services. State education officials have strongly suggested the town look at a larger regionalization in its merger proposal.
 
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. 
 
Any final proposal would have to be approved by both towns, both states and the U.S. Congress.
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