|Clarksburg Officials Reject Idea of Nonbinding Resolution on School's Future|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
03:57AM / Thursday, October 14, 2021
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — School officials have rejected the idea of asking the community whether the school should close and merge with North Adams or try for another renovation project.
Superintendent John Franzoni had recommended a nonbinding resolution on the upcoming special election or at town meeting to take the temperature of the town.
He found no support from town or school officials, or from the teachers.
"At some point, you're going to have to make a decision, the options are running out," he told the School Committee on Tuesday.
Franzoni has been urging the community to make some hard decisions regarding the 60-year-old school, which is not fully accessible and no longer meets the state's educational and building standards.
The town four years ago rejected a building project that would have put it in debt for the next 50 years. Voters approved a half-million to address some urgent issues but that's now gone.
"I could easily just go forward and keep my head down, like everybody else has done for decades, but I just don't think that's the right thing for me to do," the superintendent said. "I'm just bringing this forward because that's just discussion. We can't keep kicking this down the road in Clarksburg because at some point it's going to come back and it's going to be a problem if we don't take actions."
North Adams is looking at a school project that will probably mean the closure of Greylock School and additions at Brayton School. This will be going out for a project manager and feasibility study in January. Franzoni said if a merger question was not on the special December election ballot, that option would be off the table by the May town election.
Cathy Howe, representing the Clarksburg Teachers Association, said the teachers did not support a ballot question on either regionalization or a project with the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
"While we fully support the need to address issues with the school building and its repair," she read from a prepared statement, "as a membership we feel that a question regarding the MSBA should wait until town officials have had a chance to reconcile some of the financial backlog and is in a more stable place before asking town residents to consider another renovation project."
The town has been behind in closing its books on fiscal 2021 largely because of turnover in the finance offices. The school has raised the possibility of submitting another statement of interest with MSBA but Franzoni said the state agency would want to see there is community support after the last project was defeated.
He noted that a grant for an elevator was not likely and that the school in recent years has had both a staff member and a student using a wheelchair who could not access the cafeteria without having to go outside.
"That shouldn't be acceptable because nobody's complained about it," the superintendent said. "I would say to all the parents here, because almost everybody here is a parent of a child in this building, what if it was your child?"
School Committee member Cynthia Brule responded that the school may have to address one issue at a time and she "would be comfortable with my child being in a wheelchair being wheeled down there. That's my personal preference."
Franzoni said the state has been focusing strongly on equity in education and that while everyone is working hard to achieve that in Clarksburg, "if we don't address the issues in the building then we're not providing an equitable education for all students."
School officials agreed that at some point voters will have to be asked about continuing investment in the building. There's the issue of timing, said Chairwoman Laura Wood, who pointed out the school has asked the Finance Committee for an 8 percent increase.
"You're right, the town does have to make a decision at some point. I don't think anybody's in disagreement that there are building issues here that need to be addressed," said committee member Eric Denette. "We just need to get a better sense of what direction the residents want to move in with respect to a building project."
Principal Tara Barnes asked if the question should be whether the town wants to continue spending dollar for dollar on the building or pursue an MSBA project, which would pay a percentage of the costs.
"We got the $500,000 from the town — that's exhausted that's done, and that's dollar for dollar ... and, you know, we still have things on the punch list," she said. "Four years ago people were really reluctant to go for the whole project because they wanted ... what I heard was people wanting to piecemeal the projects."